Auburn’s Architecture Program Receives $247K Grant from USDA

Rural Studio students building 20K Dave’s Home.

Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction, or CADC, has been awarded a $247,185 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant that will support the efforts of CADC’s Rural Studio to create high-performance single-family homes that are affordable to build and to own.

The grant, made possible through the USDA’s Rural Community Development Initiative, or RCDI, is awarded to support projects related to housing, community facilities and economic development in rural areas.

The funding will bolster the implementation of Rural Studio Front Porch Initiative whose mission, based on the belief that everyone deserves good design, is “to develop a scalable, agile, and resistant delivery process for beautiful, well-designed high-performance homes titled as real property while supporting an industry of home building in under-resourced rural communities.”

Rural Studio credits their ability to successfully apply for the RCDI grant to their partnership with Fannie Mae and to the work made possible from Auburn’s Presidential Award for Interdisciplinary Research (PAIR) grant.

The Studio has a history of collaborating with the USDA on issues related to rural housing. For example, Meghan Walsh, senior architect at USDA Rural Development, is currently working with the Front Porch Initiative as Auburn affiliate, an arrangement made possible through an Intergovernmental Personnel Agreement, or IPA. According to Karen Rogers, CADC Associate Dean for Research, the RCDI grant will allow the USDA and Rural Studio to realize the full potential of their long-standing collaboration.

Front Porch Initiative works with external field test partners to expand the range and impact of housing prototypes that have been designed and built by Rural Studio students in a limited area of West Alabama. These homes could potentially benefit residents of many other under-resourced areas including the minority populations of the Lower Mississippi Delta, rural Southeast, Appalachia, and other parts of the United States that have been classified as having “persistent poverty” by the USDA.

The recently awarded USDA RCDI grant supports such a partnership with Mountain T.O.P., a Tennessee-based not-for-profit ministry organization dedicated to solving problems related to rural poverty, including housing. The grant will allow the Front Porch Initiative to help Mountain T.O.P. expand its capacity from providing a repair-only housing model for its clients to providing a total home replacement model through the USDA Direct Loan program. The Auburn team will provide designs, visualization tools, construction manuals and the technical assistance and expertise necessary to deliver high performance single-family homes that can be titled as real property.

USDA-supported projects like the field test partnership with Mountain T.O.P enable the Front Porch Initiative and Rural Studio students the opportunity to learn from direct experience and continue to improve the quality and performance of the housing solutions that they provide.

Auburn’s Rural Studio Front Porch Initiative team is led by Rusty Smith, Associate Professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, or APLA, and supported by APLA research faculty Mackenzie Stagg, as well as APLA and Rural Studio faculty, students and staff.


Image caption: Rural Studio students building 20K Dave’s Home.
Image credit: Timothy Hursley

Related people:
Mackenzie Stagg