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Super Smart, 550-Square-Foot Homes Cost $20K to Build

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Since 2005, students at Auburn University's Rural Studio—an undergrad architecture program founded in 1993 by architect Samuel Mockbee—have worked to create the ultimate in affordable houses for residents of Alabama's impoverished neighborhoods. The so-called 20K Project got its name from the estimate established as the maximum cost someone living on Social Security can afford to pay for a house. Twelve 550-square-foot, single-family homes have been built thus far, each using up $12K in materials and $8K for labor costs and contractor profits. Now, as the studio refocuses its attention on fine-tuning its designs, which now include passive solar power and Tornado-safe architecture, Rural Studio is finally feeling confident enough to enter the mass market fray. Translation: these super-cheap homes may soon be available across the country.

The team is now trying to raise money to build eight more 20K houses by Dec. 6—and they're not stopping there. "We said we could continue to be academics playing around with this as an idea, but what happens if the rubber meets the road?" Says Rural Studio director Andrew Freear of plans to move to a larger market, "we said, let's start talking to bankers about this, let's start talking to builders about how they could be built."

The biggest thing these projects have going for them, though, is that, despite starting out even cheaper than some micro homes, their value quickly increases. Freear explains:

"It costs the same amount to underwrite a $150,000 as a $20,000, so there's always pressures to raise the cost of the house, whether it's from the bank lending the money, whether its from the builder looking to make a profit, whether it's from the real estate agent." As of right now, the team is looking to find non-profit funding to combat this problem, so until then these homes will struggle to bridge the distance. Fast Company has the full story, this way.

· This Impeccably Designed $20,000 House Could Soon Be Yours [Fast Company]
· Rural Studio's Outreach [Official Site]