Since its founding almost three decades ago, Auburn University’s Rural Studio has focused on affordable housing as a core part of its mission to serve the residents of Hale County, Ala. This commitment was formalized through the Front Porch Initiative, an offshoot of Rural Studio that aims to build single-family houses and enhance access to mortgages in high-need rural areas. Each house design prioritizes the objectives of affordability, energy efficiency, and resilience.
Beyond design, the Front Porch Initiative tackles the accumulated costs of owning a home, including building operations, maintenance, and insurance. “When you think about housing affordability, you think about what a house costs to build,” says Rusty Smith, associate director of Rural Studio and a faculty member at Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction. “But we’ve found that thinking about the total cost of homeownership is where the most traction can be made.” Through work with partner Fannie Mae, which extended a research agreement with Rural Studio for three additional years in April 2020, faculty and students developed four prototypes for one- and two-bedroom houses that can be adapted to different site conditions. The detailed construction documents and supporting technical materials allow the houses to be built by local workforces with easy-to-access materials.
Over the next year, the Front Porch Initiative plans to further refine prototype designs and start construction on houses in Tennessee, Florida, and South Carolina.