The Rural Studio members, founded in 1993 by Sam Mockbee, have been perfecting the design of the so-called 20K House for the last twenty years. The project was started by Mockbee who created a program where Auburn University’s architecture students could use reclaimed wood or natural other materials to design houses for low-income residents of Hale County, AL. For the past ten years, the students have been building these homes for the poor living in the Black Belt area of Alabama. But now the 20K house is being put on the general market.
The idea behind the 20K home was the creation of an affordable, well-designed home that did not cost more than $20,000 to build. This amount represents the maximum housing cost a person living on Social Security can afford to pay in monthly mortgage installments. Since 2005, when the 20K House plans were perfected, the team has build 12 such homes, learning something new each time by placing their vision into a real life scenario. The last 20K house they built features passive heating and a safe-room in the shower. The latter was an addition they made after the Moore tornado ripped through Oklahoma earlier this year. A single 20K house measures 500 square feet, which provides an ample living area. Rural Studio has so far designed ten different types of the 20K House with costs of around $12,000 for materials and $8,000 for contracted labor and profit.
In 2010 the project members decided to take the 20K house to the general public. One of the main obstacles has been the fact that unlike mobile homes, which are commonly used as affordable housing, 20K houses tend to appreciate, and not depreciate in value. So a house built for $20,000 is worth over $40,000 a year later. Since the costs of underwriting a $150,000 house or a $20,000 are the same, there is much pressure to raise the price of the house. This pressure comes from banks lending the money, builders looking to profit from constructing it and from real estate agents. So in order to keep the 20K house costing $20,000, Rural Studio is trying to find non-profit organizations to partner up with to help keep their designs affordable.
Rural Studio is currently holding a fundraising competition to raise funds to build eight more 20K houses. They are also currently working with design firms to get student drawings up to the professional standards needed to make the 20K house widely available. They hope to raise $160,000 by December 6 through the 20K City Challenge, and the donors from the participating cities are being asked to compete to reach fundraising goals. Those cities that reach $20,000 first will each have 20K houses named after their locales.