SUGAR CITY — A local man is on a mission to alleviate poverty in eastern Idaho by creating a community made up of affordable houses.
Joshua Ruby, of Rexburg, is the owner and founder of Creating Comfortable LLC. His idea is to build a master-planned community that bypasses the traditional home-buying route and puts the design and building process directly into the hands of homeowners.
“In a regular development, a developer buys land, builds the infrastructure and then sells those lots to a builder or builds it themselves. A Realtor then sells the ready-made houses, or they work with homeowners in designing custom homes,” Ruby tells EastIdahoNews.com.
His proposal includes 12 1,300-square-foot houses on a 2-acre parcel inside Sugar City’s Old Farm Estates subdivision. The cost per home would be about $120,000.
“Since the homeowners (will be) building the homes themselves, the labor component is mostly eliminated, and that is where the cost savings come from,” Ruby says.
Aeryk Checketts, a real estate agent at Team Green Real Estate in Rexburg, says one of the largest expenses in the home-building process is the labor. Building small homes at that price is doable, he says.
“Just looking at the cost of material, it’s doable because right now the cost of labor is about the same or even more than the cost of materials,” Checketts says.
There are many factors that determine the price of a home, he says. Some of those factors include size, location and age of the home.
“It’s a hard estimate to make because there’s not many (1,300-square-foot homes) being built anymore,” says Checketts.
Many young or first-time homeowners typically buy a house between 1,700 and 2,000-square-feet, Checketts says, and a common price is about $238,000.
Ruby’s proposal includes an option to add amenities, such as an indoor pickleball court, woodshop, gym, guest rooms and swimming pool/spa/sauna, which would increase the cost of each home to about $170,000.
Since the main focus of the project is to reduce poverty, Ruby admits the amenities are not essential. But another focus of the project, he says, is to prove that you can have an affordable home without sacrificing the amenities.
Including the amenities might also create an incentive for people to buy in to his idea, he says.
Overall, Ruby says allowing homeowners to design and build houses together creates a sense of community, which is the overarching idea behind his concept. Amenities that provide a space for people to gather could create that as well, he says, but it’s totally up to the homeowner to decide what will be included.
Understanding the concept and moving it forward
This kind of housing development is not unique in the United States. Checketts says Boise and Phoenix, Arizona, have similar community-based housing developments and subdivisions.
Some examples of similar housing models include the Department of Agriculture’s mutual self-help housing program. Other models include land aggregation, streamlined quality construction and co-housing communities.
After researching these models, Ruby was inspired to start his own development, which took elements from each of them.
“Some of the parts in the actual streamlining of construction is my own invention,” he says. “Beyond some of the key construction points, all of this has been done somewhere else.”
Those interested in Ruby’s project must be able to qualify for a home mortgage of $170,000 and be willing to dedicate five hours a week per household during the design phase and 35 hours a week per household during the construction phase.
“Through a partnership with an investor, we will deed over the land to each homeowner, and they will use that as their 20 percent down collateral,” Ruby says.
Once the collateral is in your name, materials will be provided through a construction loan.
The property in Old Farm Estates is already zoned for building Ruby’s concept, he says. More people need to be committed to the project for it to move forward.
Ruby presented his idea to elected officials, community members and other invited guests at the Madison Library in Rexburg last month.
Rexburg resident Sierra Tolman says she wasn’t sure about Ruby’s proposal initially, but after hearing him talk about it, she was on board.
“There’s really nothing in that price range (outside of this project) that’s (decent). You can get a house in that price range that’s falling apart, and you’ll have to do a ton of repairs on it,” Tolman says. “We also like the fact that we’ll be part of a close community, and the amenities are awesome too!”
Checketts is not looking to buy a home in Ruby’s development, but he does say the idea of having a close-knit community where there is a place for people to gather and get to know each other is appealing to him. He’s just not sure the amenities are necessary.
“I’m drawn to the community feel (of the project),” Checketts says. “Some amenities are helpful for creating friendship, a place to gather. I’m not sure a giant warehouse of amenities is warranted with just 12 homes. If he’s looking to expand and include more homes, yes.”
Checketts says having a home that is affordable and provides a good investment for him and his family is what’s most important to him.
Two people are committed to the project so far, but 10 more families are needed before it can move forward.
Ruby says living in a community like this has many benefits, and he hopes others will be as excited about the idea as he is.
“This provides a higher-quality standard of living because of the community aspect. It solves social issues we’re experiencing today, like isolation,” Ruby says. “It provides a higher-quality product of higher energy efficiency and does all of that for less money.”