Maybe this is just the kind of creative thinking we need.

By Steve Moran

This article really got my juices flowing:  Can These $20,000 Houses Save the American Dream?

The Gist of The Article

Since 2005, Rural Studio, an undergraduate program at the Auburn University School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architect has been challenging students to design and build liveable attractive homes that would be affordable to individuals living below the poverty line in Alabama and the rest of the Southeast.

The idea was to replace mobile home living with permanent housing that will increase in value rather than depreciate. In addition, they had to be homes that were attractive . . . meaning something people would want to live in.  

After 8 years they have come up with a design can be built for less than $20,000 for labor and materials. The houses are small in the 500 sq. ft. ballpark, but they work.

The Senior Living Option

For sure, super low cost construction techniques are far from a complete solution that will solve the low income senior living problem. From a development standpoint, land costs and entitlement costs will not be solved by low cost construction. More importantly, the biggest single operating cost in senior living is staffing. While smaller units and smaller common spaces might reduce staff costs a tiny bit it won’t be nearly enough.  

And yet . . . maybe this is just the kind of creative thinking we need to find a solution.


Imagine for a moment that Rural Studio could be inspired to tackle the low income senior living building problem and they joined forces with Andy Carle’s students at the George Mason University program to create a new operating model designed to work in these new buildings. This model would have to be creative and inventive. It might very well require things like robots, volunteers, residents who do some of the work and community services . . . I don’t know.

This is a solvable doable problem. It will ultimately also need a senior living company or consortium of companies to fund the construction and initial operating capital. It will likely also require finding a state that is willing to be flexible about the regulatory process. The goal has to be the creation of a building and model and operating model that is replicable and profitable.