Yes, you can build a house for $20,000
Architecture students take on affordable housing in rural Alabama as a class project. So far, they've designed 10 interesting, inexpensive homes.
Six years ago, a group of Auburn University architecture students were presented with a challenge: Could they build a house that people dependent on public assistance in rural Hale County, Ala., could afford?
From that challenge, the $20,000 house project was born.
Since 2005, the students participating in the university's Rural Studio have designed and built 10 different $20,000 houses, which have gone on to become homes for people who previously had lived in substandard housing. The students have kept in touch with the residents to see how they use the homes, to further refine the designs.
"We came up with the number $20,000 because it is the amount people on government assistance could actually afford to pay – the mortgage is only around $100 a month. Also, the homes would be an investment for the person, appreciating in value over time," Andrew Freear, the Rural Studio's director, said in an interview for the university website. "We are trying to get these houses to be built by a contractor, so it is actually about $12,000 in materials and about $7,000 to $8,000 in labor and profit. That was the challenge we put to ourselves."
The $20,000 houses may be smaller than your standard double-wide trailer, but they are superior in a number of ways. They are more energy-efficient, which means lower utility bills, important to people struggling to get by on limited incomes.
They are also sturdier and don't deteriorate and lose value as quickly as a trailer does.
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The latest $20,000 house was featured in The Wall Street Journal. It was built in a square rather than a rectangle because it's more economical to build that way and cheaper to heat because the furnace is in the middle. And it looks less like a trailer.
Freear talked to Krista Tippett of Public Radio International's "Speaking of Faith" program a few years ago abouthow the students work with the clients who will inhabit the houses. He explained it this way:
"For my students, we don't really talk about it being charity, I'll be actually frank to you. The, what we see as being the exchange that's taking place here is that our client is a good and willing and interested and observant and rigorous and questioning client. And that's the privilege that we have in that situation. Yes, we will work with you. We want to listen to you. We want you to be very critical about what we do. Don't just say give us anything.
"And we work with people who don't know what an architect does, so we have to educate them as to what an architect can bring to a situation. We educate them to understand drawings, to engage in a conversation about spaces, to engage in, you know, the question of, what do you want? When people have never been asked what they want. We make lots of models. We make lots of perspectives, so people can begin, or at least try to begin, to imagine themselves in that place, because they have never been asked to do that before. They've never been asked to imagine before. And that's an amazing situation to be in as a student, I think."
The Rural Studio hasn't yet come up with a $20,000 house that can be easily replicated nationwide, but the students are working on it.
This may be the best bet. There are two in Atlanta where I reside, that ended up being a very modern pair. The mortgage was calculated at $2,200.00 a month, because is in prime real estate (in actuality this neighborhood was shady but in the last 3 years modern homes and better income bearing residents have bought distressed property and renovated) plus architects, etc were involved....(http://www.atlantaintown.com/3420) My boyfriend is pretty handy and he is a mechanic, I can see how this would be feasible except we are renting and live paycheck to paycheck so saving for 1. a desirable location piece of land and 2. 3 containers plus materials would be a difficult task now. I really want to do it, but you know how it goes! We live in Virginia Highlands where homes start at $350k and up! but we can rent cheap and walk to all the entertainment/prime restaurants in Atlanta. For our income, we would end up buying land in say, Ellijay or the suurbs in Marietta, which we despise. Rock and a hard place! since we pay less than $1,000 a month to live in a 2/1 right in the middle of it all, with utilities included! I am alsmost 40 and I love modern design. I think a container home is in our future...I would have to make some sacrifices. Also, we want to live near the ocean. Champagne taste and beer budget!
I wonder why: the rest of the world relies on Americans to do so much. Our basic economy is: Americans need employment, to purchase things – which makes income for others, etc. We are in a current “Housing Crisis”, “Employment Crisis,” “Transportation Crisis”. Can anyone think of any other "American Crisis’ that I forgot? Any idea that is positive that gets families off the street is a good idea at this point. Let’s leave my speech for today at that.
I think that this is a viable alternative to the “Housing Crisis”, “Employment Crisis”, “Transportation Crisis”. Can anyone think of any other American Crisis’ that I forgot?
please contact me i would like to talk to you about a house for me
HELLO !!! ( DIY ) , You can build a small LOG CABIN fer tha same amount as well as EARTH protected style homes , these concepts and methods of building have been around FOR EVER ... You can get the internet for $10 a month and still be uninformed and unable yet socially up to speed , WOW !!! AMERI"CANS" , WE USED TO BE... PEACE ...
Without trying to sound confrontational - get a grip. I'm writing from London and I own a flat in what you would call the suburbs of London. It is actually smaller than these "sheds" as you have called them and cost me around $400,000.
Now dont get me wrong, I am not saying I am hard done by over here - but the majority of posters on this comment trail seem to genuinely have no appreciation whatsoever for the world at large. In the USA you are spoilt for space, which seems to be compensated for by an insular nature. By complaining about things you are by definition comparing your circumstances to those around you - expand your horizons to the world at large and you will find you have nothing to complain about and will most likely grow as people.
This is not some sort of "children in Africa dont have enough to eat" rhetoric - this is about trying to add some perspective to the conversation.
Minnie L, The article did not go with the article. The video is of a project in Tn if I am not mistaken. THe homes in the article are in Al. People can discount these homes but with genius space planning I have seen homes the size of the "home depot shed" that I could live nicely in. Look small homes up on the web and you will find many that are cool as heck including huge flat screens and the surround sound systems built in. And since they are continuing to ask the home owners after they live in them for awhile they can keep tweaking. Doesn't anyone watch house hunters international? The rest of the world lives smaller indoors as we did in the 50's-60's and 70's. We had a 900 sq ft ranch with 7 people. Mom Dad 4 boys and 1 sister. Guess who got HER OWN room ! Some people are spoiled and live in excess. THen when times get bad they freak out. As someone else said. Living is not in the house. That is for sleep and eating maybe and bathing. The later two in the cold months ! We have lost our edge in this THE USA.
My house is only 768 square feet... 780 would be a mansion for me. Mine cost a whole lot more than 20k, but I do live in california. 2 bed one 1 bath and I have to update it because it was built in 1946. You don't need a big house. A place to sleep, cool down out of the sun and eat. I have better things to do than to remain in doors. Work, play and life happen outdoors. It isn't the size of the house it is the heart and warmth that fills it...
This post links to a Wall Street Journal article, which states that the houses are built on land already owned by the residents or their family. The land isn't included in the $20,000. As for other costs, a trailer would need water, electricity and a septic tank too, so that's a wash.
I'm sure the students follow the Southern Standard Building Code, but most of rural Alabama has no zoning, thus no minimum size, no restrictions on exterior materials or appearance, etc. And the Alabama Black Belt has the lowest property taxes in the US - that's why the infrastructure and schools suck, and why they can't attract new employers.
Some people here seem to think that the "free" design is a hand-out. I prefer to think of it as providing architecture students an education about the real world, where cost and size constraints have to be considered. I live in Alabama, so my taxes are paying for it. I consider it money well-spent.
1) In the video they state that the people who are moving in help build their own homes, and those of their neighbors.
2) They will be required to pay a mortgage on their house
3) The article states that people who've always felt they have no options are being asked for their opinion and are being asked to dream about what they want from life.
To me, this comes across as the goal is to build positive communities, personal responsibility, and helps people think about goals and how to achieve them. This seems a much more affordable, positive way to help someone out with housing rather than just giving them a trailer home. There will always be the person who takes advantage of something like this and gives it a bad name, but you can't let one person ruin it for everyone else.
About Teresa Mears
Teresa Mears is a veteran journalist who has been interested in houses since her father took her to tax auctions to carry the cash at age 10. A former editor of The Miami Herald's Home & Design section, she lives in South Florida where, in addition to writing about real estate, she publishes Miami on the Cheap to help her neighbors adjust to the loss of 60% of their property value.