Fannie Mae extends agreement with Auburn University’s Rural Studio to provide rural housing solutions

Published: April 21, 2020
Updated: April 23, 2020
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Housing finance provider Fannie Mae has extended a research agreement with Auburn University’s Rural Studio program to advance The Front Porch Initiative for those in low-income, rural areas.

The contract is under the leadership of principal investigator Rusty Smith and co-principal investigator Mackenzie Stagg. Smith is associate director of Rural Studio and on the faculty at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, or APLA, where Stagg is an assistant research professor.

Under the terms of the initial two contracts with Fannie Mae, faculty and students from Rural Studio, located in Newbern, Alabama, developed prototype designs and related construction documents for high performance rural homes. The third contract moves the project from planning to implementation as field-test partners work with The Front Porch Initiative to begin building houses.

Under the guidance of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Fannie Mae has developed a three-year Duty to Serve plan that seeks creative ways to increase availability of mortgages and housing in low-income, high-needs rural areas.

“This project is about changing the way people look at mortgages and home ownership by linking home performance with financing,” Stagg said.

The partnership is beneficial to both parties: Rural Studio has a 15-year history of developing affordable, high-performance rural homes, and Fannie Mae has the financial expertise to help make them accessible to those in need.

The current phase enables the Rural Studio Front Porch Initiative team to continue to partner with organizations on the ground that are building homes in rural areas. The Front Porch Initiative currently works with organizations in Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina.

Additionally, the research contract with Fannie Mae allows the team to offer technical assistance and construction documents to field test partners and home builders.

Rural Studio has refined construction documents and communication, both paper and online, with house-specific instructions. Finally, this contract will enable Rural Studio to develop both quantitative and qualitative analyses of the performance of the energy-efficient homes that are now under construction.

Based on the specific model and owner of each home, the team collects data related to energy consumption, indoor air quality, ambient light, temperature, relative humidity and intra-wall measurements that will then be compared to exterior weather and climate data. Of equal importance is gathering information related to the general experience and relative comfort of people living inside the home.

Fannie Mae’s support of the Front Porch Initiative has been fundamental to receiving other funding, including a recent USDA grant to study rural housing. As the Front Porch Initiative team presses on in its study of affordable rural housing, both partners are finding the collaboration to be fruitful.

“The faculty, staff and students of Rural Studio have been innovative and creative housing partners,” said Michael T. Hernandez, vice president of Housing Access, Disaster Responses and Rebuild Fannie Mae. “Our work with the Front Porch team has resulted in many new actionable learnings on how to design and build affordable and resilient homes to serve the needs of rural communities.

“I applaud their efforts to assist other rural and urban housing providers across the country leverage the knowledge and experience of Rural Studio.”

(Written by CADC Communications)

The College of Architecture, Design and Construction embraces the land grant mission of Auburn University by actively seeking ways to address and anticipate the critical issues of the region, the nation, and the world. The College's highly regarded programs in architecture, industrial design, landscape architecture, construction management and real estate development as well as unique off-campus programs such as Rural Studio, Urban Studio, futures studio and the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Program expand the boundaries of the classroom and offer an unmatched educational experience.