In rural Western Alabama, a student-led program evolves from building $20,000 homes to creating a blueprint for sustainable, affordable housing.
“I don’t think we had any idea of the complexities we were getting ourselves into when we started,” admits Rusty Smith, associate director of
That project is Rural Studio’s
Today, they’re looking to bring their 20K Initiative designs and research to the national scale. Inspired by their potential at creating lasting solutions for home affordability, we’re taking a look at the evolution of the 20K Initiative and their next steps.
What is Rural Studio?
Understanding the 20K Initiative begins with Rural Studio. Launched in 1993 as one of several “field study” student programs under
Built around community service learning and the university’s land grant heritage, Rural Studio immerses approximately 45 students a year in the tiny Alabama town of Newbern (population 186) for anywhere from a semester to a year or more.
Students work with a five-county service population to design, develop, and construct affordable housing and public infrastructure. To date, Rural Studio has constructed over 200 beautiful, site-specific buildings and gifted the homes to clients who might not otherwise been able to provide a home for themselves.
How the 20K Initiative Got Started
In 2005, Rural Studio asked its students to design a $20,000 home—with roughly $12,000 allocated for materials and $8,000 for labor and profit—in a challenge that grew into the 20K Project: a student-led, iterative research project aiming to bring beautiful, affordable homes to anyone who needs them.
“The $20,000 came from some pretty simplistic math,” says Rusty, who also serves as Auburn University’s Gresham Professor and associate chair of the architecture program. “We looked at the typical mortgage that an average homeowner within our service population could afford, which conceptually, was $20,000.”
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