What is the Phoenix Commotion?
The Phoenix Commotion is a local building initiative created to prove that constructing homes with recycled and salvaged materials has a viable place in the building industry. This process uses only apprentice labor and teaches marketable skills to anyone with a work ethic who is willing to swing a hammer. By keeping labor costs low and using donated or found materials, the homes created are truly affordable. No two are alike due to the myriad of materials used, so there is an artistic element that makes Phoenix Commotion homes unique. We target single parents, artists, and families with low incomes. We require the homeowner to be involved with the planning and construction of his or her own home. The result is a person who is empowered, not only by the useful knowledge of building skills, but by the opportunity to become part of a community as a vested participant.
Building the “aftermarket” house under our mission addresses four major social problems with one activity:
Reduction of Landfill Burden
While an exact percentage is difficult to achieve, a reasonable estimate would be that 10% of the average landfill waste stream consists of usable building materials. Reclamation is practically impossible once these materials reach the landfill because of the immense liability involved. Municipal lawsuits tend to be large and last for years. In order to avoid possible lawsuits, most municipalities have simply forbidden salvage activity. There are, however, strategies for reclamation of materials before reaching such finality.
Everyone must live somewhere. However, when a family owns its home, there is a conspicuous increase in overall self-esteem of its members and general family well-being, which ultimately leads to positive social results. The venues available to low-income families are rental property, public housing, or sheer luck. Purchase of a home is often out of reach for a low-income family because of the down-payment barrier. Further, low-income families typically have very little positive credit history. Many organizations, both public and private, are working hard in this area. The Phoenix Commotion is simply one more model in the private sector for solving such a complicated social problem.
Training Unskilled Labor
All workers on aftermarket houses are hired as unskilled laborers at minimum wage. Since one minimum wage crew does all aspects of the construction, workers accumulate many marketable skills after a year on such a crew. They are then able to compete for higher-paying jobs. An unskilled crew does not mean “ineffective,” however, as new skills can come quickly with proper tutelage.
Although Phoenix Commotion is a for-profit enterprise, we are partnered with a certified nonprofit in Houston called Living Paradigm. Living Paradigm’s president, Amanda Tullos, is a LEED AP architect. After becoming inspired by the work of Dan Phillips, she has worked, since 2008, in contributing to a reuse materials addendum to the City of Houston building codes. Living Paradigm also targets the underserved and covers both Walker and Harris Counties in its mission statement. Here in Huntsville, Phoenix Commotion has developed a relationship of trust with city building officials that has resulted in the creation of 12 structurally sound homes, but we need many more.
Living Paradigm houses The Phoenix Fund, which is a seed money account that goes directly to homesteaders to start building their homes by serving as interim financing for land, building permits, construction materials that must be purchased new, such as structural lumber, plumbing and electrical supplies. Once the house is complete and the homeowner secures a mortgage, this money is returned to the fund for another homesteader to use to start building. If you wish to get involved, you can donate to this fund here.