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Rural Studio $20k House Evolving into Product Line

Image of Dave's house at twilight

The $20K House began in 2005as an ongoing Rural Studio research project to address the need for affordable housing in Hale County, to provide an alternative to the mobile home, and to accommodate potential homeowners who are unable to qualify for commercial credit.  The $20K House project gets its name from the highest realistic mortgage a person receiving median Social Security checks can maintain.  The objective of the Rural Studio students is to design and build a model home that could be reproduced on a large scale by a contractor and built for $20,000.  Rural Studio has designed ten versions of the $20K House with costs of approximately $12,000 for materials and $8,000 for contracted labor and profit.

In 2009, the $20K House studio evaluated the existing seven versions and decided to build upon one of these designs instead of starting from scratch; the 2010 and 2011 studios made the same decision.  This intense scrutiny by the studios over three years―plus the houses they built―became the foundation for the $20K House Product line.  This product line will include $20K Houses named for their owners: Dave’s House (2009), MacArthur’s House (2010), and Joanne’s House (2011).

Dave’s house is a 509 square foot, one bedroom/one bathroom plan with a 150 square foot screened porch.  The rectangular-shaped house has an open floor plan for the living room and dining room with a separate bedroom; the entry is on the short end of the rectangle.  MacArthur’s house, also rectangular in shape and almost equal in square footage, is a collection of smaller rooms with an alcove porch entry centered on the long side.  Joanne’s house, slightly larger at 533 square feet, has an open living and kitchen space delineated into zones by an interior half wall; the porch occupies a corner of the square-shaped house, pushing out slightly for the entry.

In June 2011, Rural Studio hired Marion McElroy, a 2002 Rural Studio alumna, as the $20K House Product Manager. McElroy has spent the first months getting acquainted with the projects, talking with people who have expressed interest in the project and with those who have experience with low income housing.  She is beginning to formulate an initial plan to move from $20K Project to $20K Product.

While continuing to research the target clients and how to deliver the product to them, McElroy is taking steps to move the projects out of the research area.  These activities include conducting complete architectural reviews, including code review and FHA compliance; discussions of the need, placement and method of completing model homes, or show homes, for potential clients, and a branding and marketing plan. 

For more information, contact Marion McElroy at