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It's a fantasy to think you could build that house in Portland for 100k even if someone gave you the land to put it on.


It may be too hard to do it for $99K in Portland, but I'd argue against being quick to dismiss such an effort. So maybe it's $125K, or $150. The point is that there's room for creativity and cost cutting without sacrificing design - usually the first thing to go.


Brian, don't forget about the land, permits, SDC's, financing, testing, surveying, insurance, etc.

I am building nice 1500 sq ft (living space) homes with attached garages for under $75,000 but they sell for well over $200K when everything is included.

That being said, the design is cool and the focus on cost is very important. Especially now.


Brian, sorry but you are dreaming. No way in Portland that you would come even close to $99k. The land itself would be more than that, even for a crappy lot. Add in our seismic requirements, wet weather, city fees, SDCs, high labor costs, and presto.... $300k. It is a different world in Texas with regard to all costs, both materials and labor, as well as almost nonexistant city fees and SDCs. It is not for lack of effort or creativity that our housing costs what it does. Its just reality. You can't even build a Habitat house for that cheap, with donated materials and free labor.



See the post above you. Sounds like it is being done in Portland. I assume that this is exclusive of land costs.

The competition was to design a house that could be built for 99K, not one that sells for 99K.


I sit on the board of the Portland Community Land Trust (pclt.org) and we're constantly searching for ways to build quality homes at incredibly affordable prices.

As of yet, we've been hard pressed to build a home as inexpensively as $99,000. But since our mission is to provide permanently affordable homes and ownership opportunities, we'd welcome the conversation with any architect and builder looking to try!


this is a fantastic idea. maybe one could place two or three stacked on top of each other, creating a duplex or triplex on a small city lot, while recouping the cost of land and increasing density? i assume there'd be zoning issues of course, but i think the winners, Hybrid, out of Seattle, have already built stackable pre-fabricated dwellings that are real and on display up there. cost effective building will certainly help portland's case to house those that are not upwardly mobile, as well as those who cannot flip the bill for the down payment without some form of assistance.

Mike O'Brien

Maybe we have to start with rethinking the idea of the single family stand-alone house itself.

Given our high land and construction costs, is it realistic to keep defining a primary dwelling as a detached house? Are there acceptable designs that allow more people to share the building cost while still getting satisfactory livability and amenities? For example, many young people are already sharing houses, 5 or 6 at a time, trying to accomodate shared and private uses in a building intended for a nuclear family. Could we help them out by creating housing with big kitchens, multiple baths, small but charming private spaces and rooftop social space? Would buyers forego some amenities, like car storage, to cut costs?

In older cities like Boston and Philaelphia there are entire neighborhoods of triplexes with basements and sometimes rear garages on alleys, with prices ranging from high to low (Beacon Hill to North Cambridge). Why not here?


This is very exciting and definitely we will be looking at modular more and more often. There is some amazing work being doing in Holland with containers. Variations include stacked housing and hotels. Of course costs will vary depending on land costs but couldn't this prototype or other forms of modular housing be utilized in areas such as Gateway or along the 205 LRT corridor?

(the other) mike o'brien

Marcy McInelly of Urbsworks has done quite a bit of work in the realm of cluster housing which maybe speaks to a portion of my namesakes comments above. here's an article:


you could certainly take this a step further and incorporate more cost cutting measures, and sustainable features to make the concept even more forward thinking and economical.

there were other comments above noting that the $99k house doesn't include a number of costs, land being the largest. if you can build a house for, say, $75k and place it on a small lot for less than $100k you start to really get into affordable options. all we need for that is a compliant code.

time to start thinking outside the foursquare...


I would be extremely happy if I could get a 500-700 sq ft 1-bedroom for $99,000 in an area close-in to downtown.

Preferably if I was on the 3rd or 4th floor, too, with commercial use or live/work units on the ground floor. It's kind of pathetic when you find these dilapidated old Portland houses to share with several roommates, but you only get around 200 ft^2 of space in your room, and the building is just falling apart, needs new windows, insulation, and its wiring and plumbing dates back to 1910.

When you rent these houses - and there is no way someone like me can afford the $400k - $700k for a POS falling apart house - you can't really improve them, and are up to the whims of the owner to keep it up.

It would be really nice if there was a middle-ground option for housing you could buy into. And shoot, I don't even need a car parking space, just a secure parking place for my motorcycle and bicycle.


In response to the first Mike O'Brien, I think the courtyard housing concept is a decent attempt at creating attached, single-family dwellings that still offer private and shared outdoor spaces, similar to what you're talking about.



I think what is key here is modular housing costs vs stick built. Does this provide an option for affordable housing. I agree with the second Mike O'Brien - we have to move beyond traditional thinking regarding housing.


Stick built is almost always the cheapest way to do it. Modular is tempting but never seems to work out.


Construction defect insurance on a small condo project can be $300,000 plus. If you have only a few units that pretty much guarantees a high-end project only.

There are a couple of companies that have recently been lowering these miniumum amounts ($150-200K) but they don't have very good coverage.


I love the idea of a financially viable home and I applaud the attempt. I also applaud the compact and concise design..but I have to question the balloon framing and the low-slope roof. Neither are sustainable, with the framing requiring long pieces and the roof requiring close, ongoing maintenance.

I also wonder how responsive to the site this building can be considered without any WEST sun buffering. South facing isn't the primary heat-gain face because the sun angle is quite high in the summer.


Layman's question here: land costs aside, is there a reason construction costs are so much higher here than elsewhere as several have hinted at above? Where can I find a discussion/explanation of this?


Amanda, what do you mean elsewhere?

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