On May 15, the Front Porch Initiative team celebrated a ribbon cutting with Eastern Eight Community Development Corporation (E8CDC) for a new affordable, energy efficient infill home in Johnson City, Tennessee. The project represents outcomes possible when mission-aligned partners work together; this collaboration was made possible thanks to the commitment of E8CDC, the City of Johnson City, Johnson City Housing Authority, NeighborWorks, Appalachian Service Project, and Auburn University Rural Studio.
In 2011, Eastern Eight purchased a piece of property in a well-established neighborhood only two miles from downtown Johnson City. The site fronts a tree-lined street and slopes down in the rear, with alley access and a wide view of the neighborhood. The 50-foot-wide infill lot with setbacks limiting the buildable width to 34 feet, ideal for a house in the Front Porch Product Line. E8CDC selected the two-bedroom Sylvia’s House prototype for the site, with porches addressing both the front yard and back alley. The resulting intervention matches the scale and rhythm of the existing neighborhood fabric. Durable exterior materials minimize required maintenance, and a tight building envelope with high-performance mechanical systems minimize energy required to heat and cool the home.
E8CDC was awarded HUD Community Development Block Grant funding from the area’s HOME Consortium to enhance local housing opportunities. E8CDC partnered with Appalachian Service Project (ASP), a non-profit builder historically focused on repairs and replacing homes in their five-state service area. When breaking ground on this project in April 2021, merely a year into the pandemic, the full impacts of rapidly rising land and housing costs, a tightening labor market, and emerging supply chain issues were not yet known, nor their effects on the affordability equation. However, E8CDC always returned to the most important question: “What does it cost if we don’t build this home, and others like it, when they are needed now, more than ever?” Now that the home is complete, it will be sold to a family in the local community.
Rural Studio is both proud and humbled to have been included in this partnership. Together we have all learned a lot on this project, and we look forward to working hard to do again and again!
Both Rural Studio’s Front Porch Initiative and and the College of Architecture Design and Construction (CADC) share the common commitment to making a positive impact on the world. Informed by Auburn University’s Strategic Plan, we are committed to 1) enhance health and well-being, 2) build resilient communities, 3) shape intelligent solutions, 4) create a more secure world, and 5) promote opportunity and equity through education. And as we tilt into the holidays each year the CADC recognizes students, staff, faculty, and partners that share these commitments at our annual College Awards Banquet.
The CADC Industry Legacy Award recognizes organizations that share these goals and have demonstrated a sustained commitment in working with the CADC to meet them. This year we were delighted to host Maria Evans (Vice President of Community Investment and Development), and Tim Carpenter (Senior Director, Disaster Recovery & Rebuilding), in recognizing Fannie Mae for their ongoing commitment in developing innovative solutions to one of society’s most pressing, multi-dimensional social crisis: the lack of equitable access to high-performance, affordable housing. Together with Rural Studio, Fannie Mae is committed to eliminate the barriers to efficient and resilient homeownership in the communities that need it most but can most often afford it the least.
1) Along with the Front Porch Initiative, Fannie Mae Is committed to enhancing health and wellbeing.
Healthy housing is prevention, and prevention is the key to long-term wellbeing. By working to directly address the insufficient housing needs often found in low-wealth communities, Fannie Mae seeks to provide the liquidity and the incentives necessary to borrowers who incorporate health-promoting design features into their homes, ultimately working toward health and wellness outcomes for all homeowners regardless of their financial circumstance.
2) Along with the Front Porch Initiative, Fannie Mae is committed to build resilient communities.
Fannie Mae is committed to creating better outcomes for those facing or affected by disasters. With the increased frequency and severity of disasters affecting communities nationwide, Fannie Mae is focused on engaging with with disaster-affected communities to forge partnerships and to learn about local needs. Their Disaster Response Network assists homeowners and renters affected by disasters by providing no-cost financial counseling so they can return to normal faster.
3) Along with the Front Porch Initiative, Fannie Mae is committed to shaping intelligent solutions.
Fannie Mae seeks out thought leadership and leads the market in uncovering insights that drive business efficiencies, improve the borrower experience, and provide a deeper understanding of critical housing topics. Fannie Mae engages its industry partners to seek solutions to the housing challenges of our time and in the future.
4) Along with the Front Porch Initiative, Fannie Mae is committed to creating a more secure world.
Chartered by the US Congress to deliver liquidity, affordability, and stability to the US residential mortgage market and promote fair access to mortgage credit, Fannie Mae’s mission demands that it address these complex environmental, social, and governance issues. In these challenging times, expanding equitable access to safe, energy efficient, and durable housing is the key to securing economic well-being for individuals and families—and is central to securing vibrant communities. As an important part of this mission, Fannie Mae is committed to improving environmental sustainability and durability in the homes they finance, as well as in the communities they serve. As the largest green bond issuer in the world, Fannie Mae offers the only mortgage loans backed by new-construction, single-family residential homes with ENERGY STAR® certifications.
5) Along with the Front Porch Initiative, Fannie Mae is committed to promoting opportunity and equity through education.
Fannie Mae is dedicated to improving access to affordable homes for all families across the country. To do so means expanding access to reliable homebuyer and renter educational resources to help an increasingly diverse generation of homebuyers and renters make informed decisions. It also means fostering an inclusive workforce and industry that better reflects the diversity of the people it serves. Fannie Mae’s focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in both homebuyer education and workforce development in the home finance and construction industries is instrumental in delivering on this critical need.
Working together, Fannie Mae and Rural Studio’s Front Porch Initiative are dedicated to creating positive environmental, social, and economic outcomes for families and communities through responsible homeownership. By spotlighting and celebrating our collective values and shared commitments with Fannie Mae, the Front Porch Initiative aims to inspire other organizations, regardless of their size or scope, to join with us in driving positive change, and creating a better future, and a better world.
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.
Four Rural Studio-designed homes were the star of the show in Nashville, TN on June 29, 2021. The Music City was celebrating a successful partnership between local housing provider and CDFI Affordable Housing Resources (AHR); efficiency-minded contractor Honeybee Builders; and Rural Studio’s Front Porch Initiative. Based on Dave’s House, MacArthur’s House, and Joanne’s House, each one-bedroom house is between 510 and 540 square feet. Situated on two side-by-side parcels in the Wedgewood Houston neighborhood, Nashville’s R6 zoning allows for two detached homes per lot. The completed homes are now for sale. With an estimated total monthly mortgage cost of $900, the homes are less than the average monthly rent cost in Nashville which, in 2020, was $1390 per month!
Early in the day, a dedication and press event was held to showcase the affordable, energy efficient homes. Speakers included representatives from AHR, Rural Studio, Nashville Codes Administration, Regions Bank, Fannie Mae, the Barnes Fund, and city council representatives. Local city councilwoman, Zulfat Suara, lauded the innovative use of land and construction that make these homes affordable in a Nashville housing market where mortgage costs have skyrocketed, leaving many would-be homeowners priced out. The event gained citywide attention through multiple press stories (linked at the bottom of this blog).
Later in the day, around 80 members of the Greater Nashville Auburn Club and other Auburn friends, including former Rural Studio students, attended an open house at the site. Alumni were invited to tour the homes and learn about their energy-efficient design, durable construction, and economical use of land. Our own Rusty Smith spoke to the crowd about how Rural Studio found itself in Nashville: “…we met Eddie Latimer and Affordable Housing Resources. He shared the challenges you all face here in Nashville, and while Nashville might seem a little different than our hometown of Newbern in West Alabama, some of the challenges sounded similar, something we wanted to be part of, and to learn from.”
The Nashville homes mark a significant milestone for the Front Porch Initiative: they are the first mortgage-bearing Rural Studio houses to be built outside of Alabama. The Initiative continues to scale up the research and housing accessibility work of Rural Studio throughout the Southeast. But, there is still much to learn about innovative approaches to zoning, mortgage financing, insurance, and home performance. These four modest homes are a big step forward in our research and ability to share information with a broader constituency of housing providers.