Looking for a house (like Kathy has been doing as she prepares to move from Loveland, Colorado to Tucson, Arizona), or cleaning your home (like we all do), makes you think about the space you have and the space you need. Do we need all this space, all this stuff? The bigger your house, the more stuff you can (and probably will!) accumulate. The more space you have the more you have to maintain, heat (or cool), and take care of.
The folks at Rural Studio have been thinking about these things too, along with how providing houses not only gives folks shelter, but also provides jobs and economic growth. In an article published by Slate, three of the program’s faculty describe why they’re working on this project, how it serves the Hale County Community, and how these houses create economic development.
“Our goal was to design a market-rate model house that could be built by a contractor for $20,000 ($12,000 for materials and $8,000 for labor and profit)—the 20K House, a house for everybody and everyone. We chose $20,000 because it would be the most expensive mortgage a person receiving today’s median Social Security check of $758 a month can realistically repay. A $108 monthly mortgage payment is doable if you consider other monthly expenditures. Our calculations are based on a single house owner, because 43 percent of below-poverty households in Hale County are made up of people living alone. That translates to a potential market of 800 people in our county.
“A contractor building 20K Houses for 800 people under a rural development grant would put $16 million into the local economy. Financing would come from a commercial mortgage or a Department of Agriculture rural loan program. We figure that since we design 20K Houses so that they can be built in three weeks, a contractor could build 16 houses a year. Assuming a workforce consisting of a contractor and three workers for each house. The contractor would earn $61,000 a year and the workers $22,200 (based on a wage of $11.57 per hour, well above the current minimum wage of $7.25). Our expectation is that commercial success will create a new cottage industry, bringing new economic growth to the region.”
We like the way this program helps us think outside the box, and how the simple act of creating housing can improve everyone’s well-being. We also like how it serves a rural community. Hale County is located in west-central Alabama, in an area of the state known as the Black Belt because of its fertile soil. Catfish ponds have now mostly replaced cotton fields, but the community remains proud of its agricultural roots.
The Slate article includes lots of pictures of student designs, showing what they’ve learned along the way about what people really need and want. Check out the pictures and see what it makes you think about your ideal house.