Re: Variations on low cost housing
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 18 May 2008 16:45:16 -0700 (PDT)

On May 18, 2008, at 6:21 PM, Marganne wrote:

Now they are trying to get rid of it all, down to their fancy wedding
bands. Chasing a utopian vision of a self-sustaining life on the land
as partisans of a movement some call voluntary simplicity, they are
donating virtually all their possessions to charity and hitting

There was a whole movement in the 1970s of "handmade houses," notably in Woodstock NY and California. I used to have a bunch of books on them but they went the way of a storage unit run amok.

There are many still standing in Woodstock. Most built on private property in the woods so no one knew they were being built. They were small -- no part larger or heavier than one person could lift. They used conventional materials but were smaller, many built one room at a time. I had friends who built a lake cottage by hand. All five members of the family made a list of what the cottage had to have. One said a dishwasher. Others had less technical demands that produced a circular stairway that went to a window seat.

In California, the advantage was that people didn't have to put in heating or cooling systems. My favorite California story was of a family who bought land in the country, sold their house, and had a moving truck put all their stuff under a big tree. The movers were a little aghast.

Another woman found that the only building code she could meet was for a boat house, so she built a boat house in the middle of a field. A little house up on stilts.

One of the interesting things they found was that teenagers would go out and build their own houses at about 14. At first the teenagers had their own houses but came back to the main house for meals. At 16, they tended to be more self-sufficient and only visited once a day or so.

That experience, I think, says something interesting about how independent children are ready to be at what ages. If I had a million dollars to invest, I would build group homes for teens and post teens who are not ready and can't afford to live alone but need to be on their own. Something similar to college dorms for kids who don't go to college. They don't have the advantage of that transition.

But for low cost housing, thinking things like this might help.

If you have a reputable developer, I think you could get low cost housing built. And a developer might be more interested if you were doing something unique, like Tumbleweed houses, etc. Something that would set a precedent. Developers usually get 10-15% of the cost of the project but they do a LOT of work for that money. With less complex housing, they wouldn't make as much but it wouldn't be as difficult either.

Sharon Villines in Washington DC
Where all roads lead to Casablanca

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