Physical poverty is not an abstraction, but we almost never think of impoverishment as evidence of a world that exists. Much less do we imagine that it’s a condition from which we may draw enlightenment in a very practical way.
A good friend of mine called me yesterday to tell me about the $20K houses being built in Hale County, Alabama, one of the poorest rural communities in the country. She had just read an article about it in Metropolitan Home and wanted to share it with me. (As a side note – this is what I love about being associated with the Tulsa Initiative – I’ve had a lot of friends start sharing their ideas, inspiration, articles, and creative approaches to solving poverty. It’s awesome.)
The concept of the $20K house is pretty simple. In 2004, students at the Rural House Studio at Auburn University partnered up with HERO (their local housing resource center) to build safe, affordable housing for residents in the community. Back in 2003, Pam Dorr, a new resident of the community, had moved to the area to perform outreach to the residents through work at Rural Studios. I should note that students that come to Rural Studios are not regular students and some are not even enrolled in Auburn. Rather, they come to perform outreach to the community through design and architecture. I love their mission statement:
The mission of the Rural Studio is to enable each participating student to cross the threshold of misconceived opinions to create/design/build and to allow students to put their educational values to work as citizens of a community. The Rural Studio seeks solutions to the needs of the community within the community’s own context, not from outside it. Abstract ideas based upon knowledge and study are transformed into workable solutions forged by real human contact, personal realization, and a gained appreciation for the culture.
Dorr had been helping the elderly repair leaky window and roofs only to realize that all of these houses had serious problems and that by all accounts were substandard and uninhabitable. One house even swayed in the wind. As she probed further, she realized that many of the widows had applied for loans to buy new houses, but couldn’t qualify because their monthly social security incomes were so low. It appeared that most of them would only qualify for a $20K mortgage, at most. Dorr began a crusade to find an architects or affordable housing groups that might have some advice on building a $20K house. She found none. Through Rural Studios, she was able to convince them to issue a challenge to the outreach students to build a 20K house – 10K for materials and 10K for labor. The results have been houses that range from 300-600sq feet and are absolutely lovely in their design and efficiency. Average mortgage payments are around $60. If you want to check out some of the designs and read more about this amazing project, check out some of the links below:
http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/ruralstudio/ – Fantastic coverage of this project. Check out Sam Mockabee’s essay.
http://www.notesondesign.net/inspiration/design/who-cares/ – Love this quote from this blog, “The next morning, we gather in the small studio to “think wrong”. The white walls are covered with ideas, thoughts, and questions. After a fruitful discussion (What is important to us? What is the problem? How can we help? Who is the audience? What is success? How can we change behavior?) the group decides to go out into the community and get to know the people they’ve come to help.”
What would you do with $20K? Do you have any challenges you would like to address to the Tulsa community?