In March, Malyssa Egge sat down for her first meeting with Community Rebuilds, a Moab-based affordable housing nonprofit that was hoping to expand to Bluff. Nine months later, on December 21, she greeted over a hundred people outside her brand new straw bale home to celebrate its completion.
“It’s magical in a way,” said Egge, a Bluff resident and teacher. “It happened so quickly.”
The 1,000-square-foot home was largely built with natural materials and was designed for energy efficiency. It features solar panels, natural clay plasters, earthen floors, passive solar orientation, and 18-inch walls insulated with straw bales.
The home was also constructed with affordability in mind. “Materials are dirt cheap because we’re literally using dirt, straw, and sand to build a home,” said Karen George, the head builder on the project. “There’s a need for affordable housing everywhere, and [Community Rebuilds] gives people an option to have an energy-efficient, affordable, beautiful home.”
The program was founded in 2010 by now Moab mayor Emily Niehaus, and Community Rebuilds has completed 36 homes for local workers in Moab, on the Hopi reservation in Arizona, and in Colorado. Homeowners must have lived in the community for at least two years and be considered low income by the USDA to qualify for the program. (In San Juan County, that means a maximum income of $56,900 for a family of one to four.)
The USDA Rural Development office typically provides a $100,000, low-interest loan to homeowners, mostly to cover building supplies. Community Rebuilds then finds a team of student interns who want hands-on experience with natural building techniques. The students pay no tuition for the program and receive a small stipend.
“Interns get an education,” George said, “and homeowners get a home full of heart that’s built by a community.”
For Egge’s home, 11 interns and two instructors traveled from across the U.S. and abroad to participate. They lived in a historic Bluff pioneer home, owned by Design Build Bluff, throughout the four-month project.
Community Rebuilds homeowners are expected to join the interns on the construction site for 20 hours per week. For Egge — who was already working three part-time jobs — that meant long days.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “You have to put in sweat and put in the time, but it’s doable.”
Rodrigo De La Mano, one of the interns on the project, traveled from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to work on the house. He said he enjoyed meeting new people and working on a team.
“We had piles of clay, sand, and 2x4s [a few months ago], and now it’s a home,” he said. “You forget what’s under the plaster: straw and good vibes.”
“We had some really incredible support from the Bluff community,” George said. One afternoon a rain storm threatened to ruin freshly poured concrete, so locals lent dozens of tarps to the builders. “It ended up perfect because Bluff came together and supported us,” she said.
Egge has rented in Bluff since 2004 and is looking forward to being a homeowner.
“Shout out to all the great people who gave up their hearts and their hands and their tools and their work to make this happen,” she said.
–Community Rebuilds plans to build another home in Bluff in the fall of 2019, and is currently accepting applications from potential homeowners. Visit communityrebuilds.org for more information.
–Read about Bluff’s first straw bale home in the Canyon Echo archives.