Equitable Access & Affordability

We are focused on creating high-performance homes that consider the total cost of homeownership, specifically addressing the areas of efficiency, durability, health, and wealth.

High Performance Homes

Increasing performance in these four key areas boosts value while also reducing risk to all stakeholders.

Efficiency

Turning monthly expenses into monthly investments.

  • Enables homeowner to “afford” a more valuable home
  • Efficient homes smooth out monthly energy costs
  • Homes are designed to maximize shoulder seasons
  • Efficient homes have a higher appraised value

Resilience

Increasing building resilience helps expect the unexpected.

  • Increasing resilience helps protect the asset
  • Reduces cost of annual maintenance and repairs
  • Leverages insurance incentives to reduce annual premiums
  • Reduces displacement time due to a disaster

Wellness

Long-term prevention begins with a healthful home.

  • Building assemblies address material toxicity and air quality
  • Safety, security, and accessibility all impact mental health
  • Homes are designed for thermal health and human comfort
  • Active design and aging in place are key design factors
  • Demonstrated wellness outcomes increase home value

Community

Homeownership is essential to financial stability and wealth building.

  • Homeownership provides stability and security
  • The home is considered an investable asset
  • Over time, equity increases financial leverage
  • Local construction increases workforce capacity
  • Homes titled as real property appreciate in value

Building on Research

Rural Studio is working to develop a range of partnerships to address the total cost of homeownership, including the products and policies necessary to increase housing affordability.

Product Development

What does a house cost?

Rural Studio is directly addressing the insufficient housing and community infrastructure needs throughout our “Persistently Impoverished” five county service population. Since 1993, students have designed and built more than 200 homes and community projects in West Alabama. Many new homes have been constructed to replace substandard residences, providing beautiful, safe, secure, healthy, high-performance dwellings that support aging in place, in-home entrepreneurism, and strengthen critical existing intergenerational family “kinship networks.” By intentionally integrating advanced design solutions that also utilize local labor, conventional construction techniques, and locally available building materials, these projects directly contribute not only to the reduction in initial cons of construction, but also to the enhanced safety, security, health, welfare, educational and wealth building opportunities of our neighbors.

Policy Development

What does a house afford?

In order to address the systemic issues underlying the housing affordability crisis facing much of rural America, Rural Studio is concerned both with what the house costs to purchase, as well as what it affords the homeowner once it is occupied. By coupling the ‘first cost’ inputs with the outcomes of the ‘second costs’ of homeownership, we are creating a new paradigm of how a lender might alternatively consider the ‘mortgage carry’ of a homeowner. For example, if a homeowner reduced their energy bill (second cost) by $25.00 per month and instead invests that same $25.00 to their mortgage payment, they can now afford to finance an additional $5000.00 in energy efficient construction (first cost) with no increase in their total monthly outlay. Such upgrades also increase the appraised value of the home, thus better protecting the investment of both lender and homeowner.

Partner Development

What is the cost of inaction?

Rural Studio is systemically approaching the housing affordability crisis across the entire ecosystem of procurement. Along with Fannie Mae, USDA, and Wells Fargo, we are currently working with a broad array of national and federal partners to do so, including the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Institute of Building Sciences, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, Kaiser Permanente, the Healthy Building Network, the Housing Assistance Council, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, YouthBuild International, and Habitat for Humanity. Together, this coalition of partners is developing a holistic approach to housing affordability that addresses the systemic issues and financial impact of energy efficiency, building durability, health outcomes, and wealth creation.

Lack of Inventory

The United States is largely a nation of homeowners. But, in 2017, an Urban Institute report found that no county in the entire country had enough housing to meet the need. With few alternatives for affordable housing in rural America, a national crisis is at hand.

There is a lack of good, well-designed, dignified, high-performing single-family homes that can be titled as real property.

In the United States, it is commonly understood that homeownership is the cornerstone of financial security and wellbeing. However, the obstacles to home ownership are broadly systemic and rooted across the complex ecosystem of single-family home procurement. This ecosystem includes the ‘first cost’ areas of income, credit, primary and secondary mortgage markets, zoning, permitting, and project controls as well as the ‘second cost’ areas of home insurance, energy consumption and maintenance requirements.

Opportunities for affordable housing remain scarce, especially among the minority populations of the Lower Mississippi Delta, rural Southeast, Appalachia, the Rio Grande Colonias, Native American lands, and in migrant/seasonal farmworker communities. Hidden from mainstream America, these communities are isolated geographically, lack resources and economic opportunities, and have suffered through decades of disinvestment and double-digit poverty rates. These factors have contributed to an outmigration of young adults, fewer births, increased mortality among working-age adults, an aging population, and have exacerbated the inability for rural homeowners to tap into the economies of scale available in urban centers. Together, these factors conspire to make access to capital, materials, and labor virtually unobtainable. 

The USDA defines counties as “persistently poor” if 20 percent or more of the population has lived in poverty for the previous 30 years. Although rural America accounts for less than 20 percent of the country’s overall population, 85 percent of persistent-poverty counties are rural in nature. Rural Studio directly serves the persistently impoverished counties of Hale, Perry, Greene, Dallas, and Marengo Counties. 

Trapped in economic systems of predation and production systems of resource extraction, our rural residents struggle to gain a “leg up” and a path out of persistent poverty. Issues faced by our clients rural populations include:

  • Population loss, lack of density and challenges of scale
  • Absence of affordable, high-performance housing inventory
  • Food, energy, education, and health insecurity
  • Lack of accessible transportation and other vital infrastructure
  • Absence of social services
  • Scarce and constrained federal and philanthropic funding
  • Noncompetitive economies
  • Ingrained structural bias (source: executive summary)

This type of systemic economic distress has a major impact on housing conditions for both communities and households alike. Poverty is more regionally concentrated in rural areas, and consequently impoverished rural households experience some of the worst housing conditions in our nation. Integrating housing procurement solutions that, by design, contribute directly to the support a more sustainable, resilient community — one that includes access to quality employment, health, wellness, and educational opportunities – can provide a better life for its residents.