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Rural Studio’s 20K Homes and the Complexities of Affordable Housing

A research program at Auburn University in Alabama seeks to go national, but experience from the program’s evolution means a cautious move forward.
August 28, 2018, 7am PDT | Camille Fink
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The 20K Home is a research program to teach Auburn University students about designing and building affordable housing. It began 13 years ago as part of a field study program, Rural Studio, when students were tasked with building a home for $20,000, with $12,000 going to materials and $8,000 to labor and profit.

Since then, almost 30 homes have been completed, but things have changed over time—a doubling of the cost of materials, for one. An expansion of the program, the 20K Initiative, has also highlighted the many challenges of affordable housing beyond design and architecture. “Today, the 20K Initiative has shifted the discussion from the cost of a home to the cost of homeownership, from purchase to post-occupancy maintenance,” reports Lucy Wang.

The 20K Initiative recognizes that affordability is less about homeowners’ ability to cover the monthly mortgage and more about unanticipated challenges: fluctuating energy costs, unexpected maintenance, or loss of a job or income. The program is now focused on fostering the long-term sustainability of affordable homeownership. Past lessons and insight are informing the project’s next steps, with plans for the release of a 20K Product Line next year to make the homes and related research widely available.

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Published on Monday, August 6, 2018 in Dwell
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