Today’s housing affordability crisis is a slow-motion, multi-generational, public health disaster of our own making. And until we recognize that how folks live today in America is actually the intentional outcome of long-standing intersectional injustice, we never will be able to truly provide equitable, sustainable, healthy, and durable housing access to those in our country that need it most but can afford it the least.
Rural Studio has always been a “Housing and Food First” organization, which means that before we can begin working with our neighbors to address the broader issues faced in our low-wealth community, we must first work together to make sure everyone is decently housed and adequately fed. That said, Rural Studio students have designed and built well over 200 projects for our community, including a lot more than just houses. So why is that if we truly believe in the “housing and food first” approach?
Well, think about the Newbern Firehouse, for example.
While working on developing affordable house prototypes, our students came to realize that one of the significant barriers to affordable homeownership in our community was the lack of adequate fire protection.
“But why is that a problem?” they asked.
Well, because houses were burning down at an inordinate rate.
“And why is that a problem?”
Well, that meant that you couldn’t get homeowner’s insurance.
“And why is that a problem?”
Well, if you can’t get homeowner’s insurance, you can’t secure a mortgage. And of course, as we have come to find, if you can’t secure a mortgage, no amount of work that we might do as architects by “designing the house this way or building it that way” would ever solve this problem; housing access and affordability simply aren’t brick and mortar problems. It is in this way that Rural Studio works with across the whole system of housing access, first by revealing and understanding the deeply systemic issues faced in our rural communities, and then by bringing together key stakeholder partners across all areas of influence who through collaboration can begin to address these challenges.
Together with our partners, we embrace the idea that the best way to learn how to do something is by actually doing it. Rural Studio is action-oriented, and we get things done.
We have also found that when faced with difficult problems, it is always best to tackle them together. So Rural Studio is extraordinarily team oriented as well. Combining our belief in the importance of action with our penchant for partnerships, Rural Studio acts not just as a research “Think Tank,” but also as a sort of “Do-Tank” as well.
In the coming weeks we will be sharing more about not only what we have learned relative to increasing equitable access to high-performance, healthy housing, but also what we are doing about it as well.