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!!!!! How to solve the Affordable Housing Crisis

 
master steward
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I like the idea of somewhat modular/standard designs that are vernacular and optimized for local climates and natural disasters.  Meeting code and being somewhat minimalistic.  Maybe 1000 sq feet so they aren't tiny but are more like a 1950s house.

Well-built while avoiding the real (or imagined) issues with mobile homes or modular homes that don't have great resale.  
 
pollinator
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Jay Angler wrote:Hubby agrees with your figures, John.

More seriously, I can remember reading "A Pattern Language" and the author stating that we need more "working housing" - small production products for the neighborhood produced in ground floor workshops with housing behind and above. I'd change that to food production behind and housing above. People will eat better if they have some fruit trees and veggie gardens on their own land. Some people figured that out with the Covid crisis last year, but I really wish more had figured it out 3 decades ago before our communities were filled up with big houses on tiny lots. Unfortunately, most communities actually consider having a "business" in your home to be a breach of planning rules.

Alternatively, I can remember seeing plans for solid small homes built in China which were sturdy enough to have serious roof gardens. Having the garden on top ensured better sunlight.



You may be interested to know that in Chicago the city government actually just relaxed the rather restrictive home business ordinance in response to how people's lives changed during pandemic. It will be much easier to (legally) run a "cottage business" out of your home now. Roof gardens and green roofs are also a big thing here.

Alderman approve massive re-write of Chicago's home business ordinance-Chicago Sun Times
 
Mk Neal
pollinator
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Jay Angler wrote:Forest Viridiana wrote:

I want high ceilings in the summer and low ceilings in the winter.  I have thought about constructing some type of temporary loft over my living room with panels that could be easily removed or swung upwards and secured during the summer.

Interesting that you just wrote this. Yesterday my family and I were discussing the whole "high ceiling" thing and I mentioned that I recalled that at Wheaton Labs, one winter they used fabric as a "lowered ceiling" in their tepee. I had had a similar idea at one time that I hadn't acted upon as it hadn't been critical path, so we discussed how something like a fabric "roller blind" that went horizontally across a room in the winter, but rolled up against a wall in the summer might be a cost effective way to improve an existing situation. Your idea of panels that actually made for temporary living space has merit - so many homes are larger than really needed just to accommodate occasional guests!
Hopefully someone at Wheaton Labs will see this and know whether I'm remembering correctly or not, and how it worked out.



A similar idea to the old-fashioned canopy beds; creating a small, cozy chamber which traps body heat so you are comfy without using so much energy to heat a whole room.  Maybe we should make a "canopy couch" for winter family TV-watching?
 
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I live in a hot humid climate that can also be wet and frigid.  I have a little to offer on design.  An attic fan and windows positioned for cross breezes, well insulated transom windows if possible, up high.  Insulation, insulation, insulation.  Shading, especially on the west side and protection from winter wind from the north.  The high ceilings with sliding japanese panels to cosy and warm it up in the winter.  I would still want AC because 110 F with 95% humidity is just not tolerable to me unless I have ac or am swimming.  I love the refrigerator having an outdoor part for winter idea.  I also like the courtyard house.  I would want a way to use my kitchen wood stove to heat the house in the winter or vent the heat in the summer.  Might just be easier to cook outside in the summer.  Part of why natural building is either slow or expensive is that it is labor intensive.  We have bamboo available but to turn it into a lasting building product takes time.  Lots of wood on our land also, but takes time or money or both to harvest, mill, plane, and build.  If you have a construction crew willing to do this it is still going to take more clock time so not sure if money saved in the construction materials will offset the increased labor costs.  If the homeowner could contribute some sweat equity to the build more could be saved.  Would one way to pay the construction crew be to let them build their own house on an acre or 2?  How much barter can you work into that situation to make it more affordable?  And on the mortgage end, has anyone explored a non conforming conventional loan for alternative construction?  Also, if you have a relationship with a local banker and can meet codes, or in an area with no codes, they can be a little more lenient if they can do an in-house loan and if you have a bit of collateral.  
 
Cl Robinson
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Oooh and a simple metal roof with wide overhangs to keep it dry and shaded and catch water.
 
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I like a lot of the ideas here...

Modular homes that are easy to add a module to at some point later is very cool and can grow with the owner/family.

Home functionality is very important, many designs are bad and should not have been used. Apple proved that a good design which, even if people don’t know they will like or want, is far better than giving people what they are used to at the current time. Plumbing, electrical, etc being on the inside walls seems like a no brainer that people don’t know they want or need. The outer walls should have insulation in them, not water pipes that can freeze or lines for the HVAC or anything else screwing up the R value in the perimeter.

Wood houses are prone to wood problems (fire, termites, rot, etc)

Rock wool insulation doesn’t burn and is awesome stuff.

Whole house fans are really really nice and can save a lot of money cooling and venting a house.

I’ve always had outdoor kitchens for my warm weather cooking (and I use them for winter holiday cooking as well).

Dome houses are impervious to hurricanes and tornadoes. (They can be totally customized on the interior layout, but not so easy to add onto). Quonset huts are pretty wind resistant too (if they don’t have an overhang on the ends).

Solar roofs should just be a requirement for all new construction and should be designed in vs an afterthought. If every roof in the country was solar, we wouldn’t need any power plants.

Sears used to sell houses and you could buy a kit and it would be delivered with all the parts and assembly instructions. And some models had optional add on kits you could buy at the same time or later. There are still a lot of those Sears homes standing and in use today. That was affordable housing in action. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

It seems to me that an architect could design (or may have already designed) some homes that could be very affordable, mass produced, final assembly on site. That might help deliver a really good home at an affordable price. If you build it, they will come. And there is no reason not to choose a bulletproof design with materials that don’t  burn (like metal studs and rock wool). And let’s go with paperless sheet rock that won’t burn nor grow mold. Internal wall pipes that won’t freeze, build on high ground that won’t flood, make them wind proof, etc).

I still don’t know how affordable any of this could be. Mass production can only do so much. But it’s an interesting thought exercise.
 
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Stacy Witscher wrote: Here in Oregon, one lender is more open to give mortgages for off-grid or alternative housing. Talking to lenders, particularly local credit unions might be a good idea.



I'm curious who the one lender is. I'm currently in Monmouth Oregon if that makes a difference. Hoping to buy land and start with something really simple and cheap like a yurt and then gradually develop skills to build something better.

Is there any simple way to see what places allow or disallow certain kinds of homes or alternative homes? Or is it really as tedious as having to contact each neighborhood/city/county/state housing and development department to ask what the zoning and regulations are?
 
pollinator
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There are also the factors of local codes requiring expensive systems in houses, even though they may not be necessary.  As one example, I've been accumulating small (camping) solar panels and recharging devices, and also have a 'standard' panel specifically to run a well pump.  The latter would run one of the small refrigerators used by truckers -- here is one example, which I'm planning to purchase soon:  https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B0831KRWRT/ref=ox_sc_act_title_11?smid=A3AY0BDOBK8IYP&psc=1.  I've also got the well pump meant to be used with the solar panel, and a couple of camping water pumps meant to pump up a shower out of a bucket (these are rechargeable).  I've got rechargeable lights of several types (camping lanterns, headlamps, and flashlights); a rechargeable fan (and plan to get more of those, because we don't have AC); a couple of rechargeable fire starters; and of course a laptop, tablet, and phone.  With solar water heating, and propane for indoor cooking (cooking outdoors in warm weather) and either propane or wood for heating in cold weather....I'm trying to think what I would need standard electrical wiring for?  Doing laundry, possibly, but laundry can be hung out to dry, and I have a hand washer that is a little bit of work, but not too bad.  

For water, in a humid climate which normally gets some rain year round, it's possible to collect all of your water from runoff, or use one of those solar-powered well pumps (I'd add a couple of batteries for that, and to keep the little frig running when there wasn't enough sun for it).  I'm playing with a little house design now that is cement block (for a warm climate) and has a big holding tank built in on one side of the house to collect rain water.  That's also the side of the house where all the plumbing is; water could be moved by solar powered pumps, or if the tank was elevated, by gravity.  

Disposal of human waste is pretty easy in jurisdictions that allow composting toilets (I've lived with outhouses, and with the sawdust bucket toilets, and properly handled both are fine).  

We are probably going to be moving in another year or so (the daughter we moved here to be closer to is in the process of moving to Texas for a new job); I'm debating either following her to Texas (although not to the Dallas area, which is where her job is), or going to Florida.  My middle daughter has to be in Pensacola a couple of times a year for work, so she'd be able to add a visit to us to her trips there.  But I've heard several stories about Florida not allowing people to live off-grid.  

I own the place where we are now, in Kentucky, free and clear, but I didn't pay a lot for it (under $50,000) and probably won't get a lot more than I paid when I sell it.  We are low-income; I'm 64 and somewhat disabled, and my youngest daughter, who lives with me, is totally disabled and always has been.  So we aren't able to tackle heavy construction projects, like I would have when I was younger.  I'd love to build with cob or adobe, but with a bad back, that's totally out of the question.  No way are we even going to consider apartment living -- for one thing, my daughter is autistic, and when she's upset or not feeling good, she screams like a banshee!  Not very good close neighbor material!  

What I'd like to do, if we could find a location where the authorities allow such things, is find an acre or so with a small cement block building in good condition that we can convert to living quarters using the rechargeable solar, and the rainwater collection, and the composting toilet.  That would be affordable housing that I could still manage, I think, without having to handle too much in the way of heavy materials.  Then we could plant a food forest around it....

I've been watching the tiny house movement closely, and like the idea, but most of them are too small if you do much food production at home (or have other hobbies or occupations requiring space/materials/tools and equipment).  But there are a lot of good ideas in the tiny houses -- storage, and utilities, space utilization, outdoor living where the climate allows it.  Those ideas make a house of 400-800 s.f. quite functional for a small family.
 
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In the past a a lot of the affordable housing problem was solved in a very permie way by beguinages. These were semi-monastic communities where poor women could live for free. The homes were small and built in the vernacular, such that members of the community could build them themselves. They had gardens for food, churches for community and growth, and breweries for beer. Too this day people visit them to experience the peace.

This link has pictures of one in Bruges. https://www.visitbruges.be/highlights/beguinage

I learned about beguinages from the Twitter user Wrath of Gnon, who talks about vernacular architecture and traditional, sane ways to do city planning. Beguinage thread.

Wrath of Gnon on Twitter
 
pollinator
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Adam Logan - I want to say it was Umpqua Bank. We didn't end up getting a loan, by choice, but they had assessors skilled in off-grid properties.
 
pollinator
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This may not be 100% in the spirit of this thread, but I want to point out another practice I think should be done away with: Scraping all the good topsoil off a new property to build (and selling it, I presume), and then replacing it with a few inches of topsoil brought back in. Really messes with the ability to have decent gardens without a whole bunch more inputs.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Heidi Schmidt wrote:This may not be 100% in the spirit of this thread, but I want to point out another practice I think should be done away with: Scraping all the good topsoil off a new property to build (and selling it, I presume), and then replacing it with a few inches of topsoil brought back in. Really messes with the ability to have decent gardens without a whole bunch more inputs.



I absolutely agree with you, and I would never buy land that had had this done to it!  I was browsing through listings yesterday (trying to decide between Florida and Texas for our next destination), and came across a parcel that had had that done to it, and they hadn't even bothered to put any topsoil back on it, just scraped it down to subsoil and left it like that.  Shudder.

 
pollinator
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In the city an empty 50ft by 100ft lot cost a quarter of a million dollar. When that is the starting point, how do we reach affordable?

This is what affordable means to me:
Land:$20,000 for 1-2acres, enough for a house, food forest, fish pond, poultry, bee-hive, small animals
Sewer:$5,000
Water Supply:$5,000
Electric Supply: $2,500
Gas Supply: $2,500
Permit & Fee: $5,000
(40k)

House Shell: $30,000 for 3bedroom, 1bath

Backup Electric:$5,000
Instant Hot Water: $1,000
Heat Pump: $4,000
Ventilation: $2,500
Wiring + Plumbing: $2,500
(15k)

Kitchen: $5,000
Bathroom: $5,000
Laundry room: $5,000
Living Room: $5,000
Dining Room: $5,000
Bedroom: $1,667 each x3
(30k)

Outside Kitchen: $5,000
Outside Living Room: $5,000
Pond: $5,000
Garden: $5,000
Food Forest: $5,000
Animal Husbandry:$5,000
(30k)

Total = $145,000


Operating Cost
Gas+Electric = $2,000/yr
Internet/Cable/etc = $1,600/yr
Insurance = $1,200/yr
Repair Fund = $1,200/yr
Water = $600/yr
Trash = $300/yr

 
S Bengi
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It would also be nice, if we could pay for our houses with a 7year loan like back in the old days.
Principal = $150,000
Years = 7yrs
Interest = $22,000
Monthly Payment = $2,000/month for 7yrs
But this assume that the per-tax income per month is around $6,000 per month, Or $3,000/m per adult if there are 2 adult making this purchase.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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If you are getting down to dollars, affordable is going to vary greatly.  I've got a paid-for house -- a saleable asset -- which I paid $46,000 for, in need of a lot of work.  Some of the work has been done; when it's all complete I imagine this place will be worth in the neighborhood of $60-$80,000, depending on the market at the time if I was to sell it.  So I could take that and put it into another property, but my income is so low that I really can't afford a mortgage payment (I'm on SS; my daughter gets disability).  

Someone else with more assets and/or more income would consider a more expensive property affordable.  Someone with no assets and a very low income can maybe only afford a tent.  So 'affordable' is very relative and 'squishy,' depending on the person's assets and income.  When we start talking about 'affordable' housing, we really need to define, affordable for whom?  What income level are we talking about?  Sometimes it's a matter of lowering our expectations, being content with less than we have been led to believe we 'deserve.'  (I HATE that term, 'You deserve such-and-such.'  BS.  Not unless you've worked for it, you don't.)  Sometimes, being able to afford housing is going to mean moving.  A person who can't afford an apartment or a house in an expensive city may be just fine in a smaller community where housing is much less expensive.  In other countries, they solve the 'affordable' housing problem with slums full of cardboard shacks with no plumbing or running water (probably not the way we want to go, but it is cheap).  

Personally, I would like to see some building regulations relaxed, allowing more people to live in Tiny Homes on their own land; allowing more people to build with things like cob and straw bales; allowing some of the alternatives for waste disposal and energy production -- yes, some of those things are allowed but not on most urban or suburban lots.  I think there are too many restrictions on the size of homes allowed -- I've been browsing, as we may be moving in a year or two and I'm trying to get an idea of where we want to move to, and I came across a lot where houses built have to be at least 1,600 s.f.  That's outrageous!  I can understand the ones that require 400 s.f., though it's possible to live in a smaller house, as the Tiny House movement has proved.  But 1,600 s.f., while not necessarily too big a house for some families, is far bigger than most of us need.  It's a sorting tool, I think, to make sure all the neighbors are in similar economic strata.  Building codes have certain minimum sizes of rooms allowed in new construction, and that makes it difficult to reduce house size to a level affordable for people who have really small incomes (I did have an architect inform me once that you can't build a house to code in less than 400 s.f.; he was wrong.  But it is difficult).  And then there are all the permit fees -- some places hardly have any, but others, like California, add an enormous amount to the cost of a house with all of their fees.  

Another thing that should be addressed when talking about affordable housing is property taxes.  If a person is low-income, on a fixed income, and their property taxes are huge (and constantly rising), how are they supposed to manage that?  Property taxes are one of the biggest things I take into account when looking at an area.  You have to take some other things into account, too.  Before we moved here to Kentucky, we lived in an area of Eastern Oregon where it was about 45 miles to town (nearly an hour's drive).  Land was cheap there because there weren't very many jobs, and in a lot of the area wells had to be really deep.  Many people haul water in tanks in the back of their trucks.  A lot of people on fixed incomes have bought land there -- you can still get a couple of acres for under $10,000, sometimes quite a bit under.  But then they are an hour away from the grocery stores, gas stations, and everything else.  With care, they manage, but sometimes they end up becoming a burden on the community because their car breaks down, or their health deteriorates and they can't drive anymore.  There are a lot of good folks in that area, and they take care of each other, but it's probably not the ideal 'affordable housing' example, even though people are living in small cabins and RV's (and sometimes in their car).  Affordable access to necessary services has to be taken into account, too.

 
Seriously? That's what you're going with? I prefer this tiny ad:
Rocket Mass Heater Plans - now free for a while
https://permies.com/goodies/7/rmhplans
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