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5 Affordable Housing Ideas

Written on 03-22-2016

A lot of people dream of living in a large luxurious home in some exotic location, and maybe you already do, but large homes aren't for everyone. Architects and designers are accommodating those of us who need less. How do you create more value with less money or space? It's a simple problem that has always existed and will never disappear.

The demand for smaller more affordable space is on the rise. says certain millennials are moving into urban environments that offer less room. Why do we care about millennials? 35% of home buyers are under 35 years of age, making up the largest generational group of home buyers.

Techie millennials want to be closer to the city and drive less. Living rooms or great rooms are less important to them. Socializing is taking place online, and entertaining guests is less common. RealPage/MPF Research says average home sizes have dropped nearly 10 percent since 2002. The size drop can be attributed to an increasing demand for studio and one bedroom apartments.

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Here are a few solutions to address shrinkage.

1. The $20,000 Home

Auburn University students in Alabama took on the challenge by designing a home built for less than $20,000. The goal was to provide something of quality to those with smaller budgets. To do so, they had to throw out the conventional building codes and re-think how a building is made from the foundation to the roof.

One example Adele Peters points out in her article, This House Costs Just $20,000 But It's Nicer Than Yours, is to use wood cantilevers over CMU posts as a foundation, as opposed to pouring concrete footings and walls.

Photo: Jessica Ashley Photography

The home on stilts reminded me of a recent trip to Ecuador. Many of the rural homes were built with a similar construction. Long posts come out of the ground and hold the home into the air. The homes are built this way because it's cheaper than building a foundation. I live in Utah and the weather can get pretty cold, dipping below freezing for several months out of the year. I hope these Auburn student didn't remove insulation from their budget.

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2. Empty Office morphs into a Apartment

What if you were faced with a lot of empty office buildings, and not enough places for people to live? You can put those people into the empty offices but there are a lot of amenities that homes come with that offices do not. Such as kitchens, bathrooms and a quiet place to sleep. Sounds like you need 'The Hub'.

Kraaijvanger, a design firm in Rotterdam, has built and installed The Hub to tackle such problems. It is a self contained, contemporary and sleek unit that provides all the amenities of an apartment. A bathroom, a kitchen, sink and storage. Within a few days it can be set up inside a vacant space, transforming it to a living space. For a little extra, you can install a second Hub that provides an enclosed space for sleeping.

What makes The Hub stand out from other small space solutions is that it can be dismantled and set up in another location.

Photo: Ronald Tilleman
Photo: Ronald Tilleman
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The Hub was the winning entry in Havensteder's "how will we live in the future?" competition. At around $550 euros, it's pretty affordable. Most of your costs are going to be finding an appropriate office space. A fortunate bi-product is that you might end up living right next to your work.

3. Going Mod

Modular units are nothing new. Sears is famous for having a home catalog selling complete DIY home kits from the 1920's. With the advancement of modular has come more compact and efficient size plans.

Take a look at Nationwide Homes. They sell homes from about 500 square feet to as little as 250 square feet. Each unit is built with high performance green standards and look pretty stylish.


Studio E Architects designed a beautiful housing development in the bay area using 58 micro manufactured units. Each 370 square foot unit was built offsite in a warehouse, then stacked on site and finished in Hardie board. These units rent for an average of $585. Compare that to neighboring areas that rent upwards of $2,000.

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Photo: Vantage Point Photography

4. Poof, no bed!

When first visiting New Zealand, my wife and I picked out the most affordable hotel we could find in downtown Auckland. Between the bed and our luggage, there was just enough space left over for us to tip toe to the bathroom door. There are pull out couches and hide-a-bed in the wall. What if the bed could be placed on the ceiling?

Decadrages, a French company has designed BedUp, a bed that, when not in use, can zip up to the ceiling to free up valuable space. With three designs, your bed can replace a couch, a desk, or pretty much anything you dream up.


How nice it would have been to zip the bed to the ceiling when we weren't asleep. However, we were so messy that our luggage would have spilled into the bed space.

5. Tear down the walls

Another method to dealing with small spaces is simply to remove the walls. I've lived in a very simple apartment that was nothing more than a bathroom and... well.. another room. It was cozy, and I've since become accustomed to having more space, but if good materials are used a small studio can be a very pleasant place to live.

Take a look at Front Office Tokyo. This studio space breaks down the walls, and divides the space with very cool contemporary amenities (sink, closet, etc). Bill Galloway, the architect, told Dezeen magazine that the rooms are more symbolic than functional.

Photo: Toshiyuki Yano
Photo: Toshiyuki Yano

The floor has been covered by 'pale wooden boards' such as northern white oak or a natural maple. The walls are a clean an simple white. Mr Galloway says "The design is intended to act as a background to the client's life, and so we chose to keep it simple."

Then they tore out existing false ceilings to give it more height. Overall the space receives lots of beautiful sunlight and has a very sexy design.


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