For $20,000, These Students Can Build You a New Home

The Rural Studio at Auburn University is nearly ready to begin mass-marketing its affordable home plans

Jun 14, 2014 at 1:45PM

Flickr / Flaxe.

If you are mulling the idea of buying a new home, you are very likely aware that you will need to have $20,000 saved for every $100,000 worth of house you plan to purchase.

But, wait: what if you could buy a brand-new house for that same $20,000? Would you be interested?

If you said "yes", then you'll be glad to hear that the student architects at Auburn University's Rural Studio are beginning the process of marketing their 20K House Product Line, named for the mortgage amount considered affordable for an individual receiving the median Social Security monthly benefit. 


Celebrating 20 years of "citizen architects"
The Rural Studio program was created by Auburn University architecture professors Dennis K. Ruth and Samuel Mockbee in 1993. The undergraduate offering, nestled within the college's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, was meant to educate "citizen architects" who would be instrumental in developing affordable housing options for Alabama's poor. 

Over the years, the school has created over 600 such architects, and completed more than 150 projects for surrounding neighborhoods. The homes were small, approximately 550 square feet, and built by the students themselves for the state's poorest inhabitants. Now, the Rural Studio wants to bring their product to areas beyond their immediate environs. 

Economically sustainable
By the year 2005, the Rural Studio program members were ready to start building their 20K Houses. The idea was simple: Create a quality, buildable design that is affordable for the least wealthy persons, and that could be replicated by contractors in other areas. The school's affordable housing concept included a development program that would infuse $16 million into the local area's economy, while giving the contractor a yearly income of over $60,000 and three assistants annual salaries of $22,200. A bank loan or government rural loan would provide the financing. 

The 20K House is emblematic of Rural Studio's multi-faceted community support model, and the notion of supplying well-engineered housing for a pittance – as well as providing an economic boost to the community where the work is being done – is an admirable one.

The question is, of course, whether the concept can truly be transferred to the masses. After all, not everyone wants to live in the space generally allotted to a studio apartment.


A work in progress
The Rural Studio staff is aware that space can be a problem, and is currently working on a two-bedroom version of the 20K House. Currently, there are 12 styles of 20K homes, and the team stays in contact with the recipients of the experimental houses. That way, the students can learn about the aspects of the buildings that need improvement. 

So far, all the houses are southern homes, and have particular design features because of the locale. For instance, each house has a front porch, something homes in other parts of the country may not find necessary or appealing. Expanding the reach of the 20K House may very well change the design and look of the homes in a positive way.

Though the issue isn't addressed by the team, it is conceivable that the concept house could be expanded in many ways, such as size and cost – as well as the scope of the project's target audience. Perhaps 1,000 square-foot houses could be offered for larger families, for a higher, but still affordable, price. Amenities could be added, and homes could be offered to low-to-moderate income individuals and families, as well.

The possibilities seem endless, and the project is still in its very early stages. As it continues tweaking its plan to bring shelter to the impoverished, there is a very good chance that Rural Studio may be in the process of pioneering the home of the future.

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4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

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David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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