The Affordable Eco-housing Revolution in Toledo, Ohio
I want to tell you the story of how this project came to be, but I will save that for another time. For now, I will tell you that on April 4, 2020 (in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic lock-down, none the less) members of Toledo Permaculture Network and several of our comrades broke ground for the construction of an off-grid home made with natural materials in the Collingwood Springs neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio. We believe this may be the first project of this kind to be carried out in an urban environment. We hope this work will add to the conversation about alternative urban housing that we’ve seen ignited by the tiny home movement and more.
The home we are building utilizes elements of permaculture design in an effort to enhance the land and community we live in. Permaculture seeks to harmonize with nature by replicating its patterns and using passive rather than extractive methods of harnessing the resources that help us to live comfortably. We will be using natural materials; stone and cob (a mix of sand, clay and straw) as well as growing our own insulation from the mycelium of Reishi mushrooms. We will be building in such a way to store heat in the winter and reject it in the summer, which cuts down on fossil fuel use for heating and cooling. We will collect our own rainwater, much of which will be used multiple times as we recycle gray water from showers and dish washing in the garden. This way we can cut out dependance on the municipal water and power grid and greatly reduce or eliminate our carbon footprint; and yes — our plans adhere to code and have been accepted by the city’s building department.
We owe much of our understanding of this way of building to the work and teaching of Deanne Bednar of Oxford, Michigan’s Strawbale Studio, and Mike Reynolds, who designed the Earthships of Taos, New Mexico. We have drawn from the knowledge they have shared and recreated it for the urban environment with the assistance of Sav’ayn, an innovative local design firm.
We feel it is very important that we do this work here, in our hometown of Toledo, Ohio for several reasons: For one, many in Toledo suffer greatly from poverty. We are located in the Rustbelt region, known for economic decline after abandonment by the auto-industry, and have been heavily impacted by recession ever since. The redevelopment of the city seems to be following the same model as most others across the country, meaning that gentrification could potentially displace many families and leave us with little option for affordable housing. We view this work as a means to protect against the effects of this profit motivated development and create space for the people of the city to determine its future.
For two, it is likely, if not definite, that Northwest Ohio will become a very popular place for humans to live as climate change continues to make life very difficult in many parts of the world. This part of the country will suffer least the effects of hurricanes, wildfires and flooding that will wipe away some of the world’s largest cities. We have a temperate climate, and, if we repair the damage done by industry, very fertile ground. Should people flood to Toledo, Ohio to seek refuge, we would like them to be met with a hopeful new world. Third, we believe that the city can be a place where we can co-create a future rooted in human and ecological flourishing rather than of endless profit-motivated growth. We would like to be part of a worldwide movement of cities making this shift.
“The earth is layer upon layer of all that has existed, remembered by the dirt. It is time to turn capitalism into a fossil, time to turn the soil, turn to the new horizon together.” — Adrienne Maree Brown
As mentioned, affordability is key in this project. In total, we estimate our construction costs for a two-bedroom home to be in the ballpark of $20,000. When we gave the city’s building department this number they laughed and told us “You couldn’t build a garage for that little money!”. We can attribute the low costs to doing our own labor, and the use of plentiful natural materials.
We think doing our own labor creates a connection that is especially important because under the capitalist model, houses tend to be viewed as financial assets. We think they should instead be spaces where their occupants have the opportunity to form deep connection with their home, to care for the land it sits on, and to enjoy and cooperate with the surrounding community. We want to open up that opportunity for anyone who is ready for it, despite their income.
We intend to build upon this idea by establishing a not-for-profit pay-it-forward model where people can pay into the material expenses over time, and construct the home themselves with the help of community members to cut out labor costs. With no profit motive it will be easy to keep payments very affordable. This would leave us with a community of securely housed folks highly skilled in natural building and confident in our ability to sustain our own livelihoods and co-create community with our neighbors. We will also make all of our construction plans available open-source to anyone who wishes to build their own elsewhere.
Those of us involved with this project believe that we must create a new world as the existing one is not made to support long term human and ecological flourishing. We are just one small group of people in Toledo, Ohio, but this work of imagining and creating a new world is being done worldwide by all sorts of communities. We look to the accomplishments of groups like Cooperation Jackson (building a solidarity economy in Jackson, Mississippi) and the Internationalist Commune of Rojava (a revolutionary community in Northern Syria based in the principles of Social Ecology) and many others for inspiration. We are overjoyed to be a part of a great turning of humanity toward collective liberation, community self-determination, harmonization and regeneration of the natural world of which we are a part (Joanna Macy).
Please follow Toledo Permaculture Network on Facebook or Instagram for updates on the construction of the house and to learn about our other projects. Also, feel welcome to contact us by email at email@example.com with any questions you may have, or to say hello and make a connection!
Brown, Adrienne Maree. Emergent Strategy. 2017 AK Press.
Fricaudet, Magali. Is the Right to the City a Right or a Revolution? Social Ecology and the Right to the City. Edited by Frederico Venturini, Emet Degirmenci, Ines Morales. Black Rose Books, pg 61.
Internationalist Commune of Rojava. Make Rojava Green Again. Dog Section Press, 2018.
Joanna Macy and the Great Turning.
June, Lyla. Lyla June on the Forest as Farm.