Remarkable $20K Houses From Rural Studio

February 11, 2016

Auburn University’s design team at Rural Studio has achieved the lofty goal of building affordable houses for somebody living below the poverty line. Here’s how: The team did so by completing two pilot project houses priced at $20,000 apiece. Materials for the homes totaled $14,000 each.

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The Design Challenge

For over a decade, architecture students at Rural Studio, Auburn University’s design-build program in West Alabama have worked on a daunting problem, reports FastCompany. “How do you design a home that someone living below the poverty line can afford, but that anyone would want—while also providing a living wage for the local construction team that builds it?”

This January, following years of design prototypes, the Rural Studio students finished their first pilot project. Partnering with a commercial developer outside Atlanta, in the small community of Serenbe, they built two one-bedroom houses.

Called the 20K Home, the Rural Studio team is targeting the design and build of homes for poverty level citizens.

“We can spend four days discussing where a refrigerator goes,” said Rural Studio’s 20K House product line manager Marion McElroy. “That’s because, unlike other design firms, Rural Studio students have been perfecting a series of radically affordable, well-designed 550-square-foot houses for nearly a decade—and they’ve been building them exclusively for residents of impoverished Black Belt Alabama.”

“The 20K Home project began in 2005 as an ongoing Rural Studio research project to address the need for affordable housing in Hale County, provide an alternative to the mobile home, and accommodate potential homeowners who are unable to qualify for commercial credit. The 20K Home project gets its name from the highest realistic mortgage a person receiving median Social Security checks can maintain. The objective of the Rural Studio students is to design and build a model home that could be reproduced on a large scale by a contractor and built for $20,000.  Rural Studio has designed seventeen versions of the 20K Home with costs of approximately $12,000 for materials and $8,000 for contracted labor and profit.

“20K Home Product Manager Natalie Butts-Ball, a Rural Studio alumna, is currently working to move from 20K Project to 20K Product. While continuing to research the target clients and how to deliver the product to them, she is taking steps to move the projects out of the research area.  This includes activities such as conducting complete architectural reviews, including code review and FHA compliance; discussions of the need, placement and method of completing model homes; and a branding and marketing plan.”