Cheap Houses

Typical housing programs in developing countries focus on financing mechanisms to make expensive housing more affordable.  Few programs however focus on developing housing that it actually cheaper to produce.  A recent Economist editorial inspired me to do a little research on projects that are trying to develop extremely low-priced new housing for urban poor families.  Although helping informal communities acquire safe, legal housing is much more complicated than designing a $300 kit to build a house, these ideas are one important step in the long process of helping all urban residents afford decent housing.  The Economist notes these “frugal innovations” are “all the rage at the moment,” however hopefully some lasting lessons will emerge from this trend that can be combined with more efficient and fair methods of granting titles to squatters.

The $300 House Competition The $300 House is “an initiative to bring affordable housing to the world’s poorest: a plight facing roughly two billion people.”  The idea original came from a piece in the Harvard Business Review and has since become a movement to actually design and create a model that can be reproduced all over the world. Many more ideas can be found on the competitions website.

WorldHaus,is a modular housing kit for under $1000 created through Idealab. Idealab has worked with banks, micro-finance institutions, and local entrepreneurs to develop this kit.  The kit also allows the house to customizable and extensible, “giving families the ability to increase floor space or add amenities.”

Bamboo House in Nepal by Habitat for Humanity  Habitat for Humanity first began using Bamboo housing in Nepal in 2005.  Bamboo was chosen for its cost effectiveness, its natural abundance, as well as its ability to create houses that are resistant to earthquakes, strong winds and storms.

Quinta Monroy Housing in Iquique, Chile  In 2003 the Chilean government commissioned the Element, a group of architects, engineers, social workers, and contractors to create affordable housing for a community of nearly one hundred urban poor households.  The results are the beautiful medium rise units pictures below that costs about $7,500 each.

Rio De Janiero Ecological Housing  Perfiles SM, a Spanish company has designed a multi-unit housing development out of shipping containers as affordable and ecologically friendly housing.  Photovoltaic and solar thermal panels sit on top of each unit while a centralized heating and cooling system efficiently regulates the interior climate. Each unit costs about $34,000.

Levittown Although Levittown is certainly not an urban example of affordable  housing, it should be mentioned as a historic example of using modular building to bring down the price of housing. In 1951 the average Levittown house cost about $7,500, while the median price for a house in New York State in 1950 was $10,152.

Hong Kong’s Shell Apartments  Hong Kong, like many countries, uses a model for constructing subsidized housing that varies from that of the US, they sell apartments basically as “bare shells.”  Metropolis says “The apartments are essentially concrete boxes with only a skim coat of plaster (and plumbing conduit running on the outside of the building).”  Tenants are responsible for flooring, cabinetry, appliances, light fixtures, and air-conditioning, making the basic costs of housing much more affordable.

ecoMOD: The University of Virginia School of Architect My final example is a project that many of my classmates at UVA designed and built: the ecoMOD project.  ecoMOD “aims to bridge this divide by creating a series of environmentally sound, modular housing units for affordable housing organizations.”  Since the project began in 2004, it has partnered with Habitat for Humanity and Piedmont Housing Alliance in Charlottesville, and it is currently working on a house in Jamaica.

– Melissa


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