Trash Transformed Into Beautiful Low-Income Housing

Photo: Michael Stravato for The New York Times.

Texas builder Dan Phillips is not a fan of conventional low-income housing, which is all too often unattractive and poorly built out of environmentally unfriendly materials.

“I think mobile homes are a blight on the planet,” the 64-year-old told The New York Times. “Attractive, affordable housing is possible and I’m out to prove it.”

Take a look at some of the incredible structures he’s already created out of salvaged materials, junkyard trash and curbside finds and it seems as if he has already achieved this goal. Phillips’ charming homes are a testament to the old adage that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

The former intelligence officer, dance instructor, antiques dealer and cryptogram puzzle maker started his construction company, Phoenix Commotion, in 1997. Phillips, who says he believes “it’s in everyone’s DNA to be a builder”, thought he could address two problems at once by creating affordable housing with the perfectly usable construction materials that are discarded every day.

He sees potential in almost any discarded and durable material, like the picture frame corners that he snagged from a frame shop and used to create a stunning zig-zag patterned ceiling in one of his houses. Phillips also makes use of mismatched bricks, shattered mirrors, wine corks, shards of broken ceramics and even bones from cattle yards.

Phillips also helped set up a warehouse of recycled building materials in his city of Huntsville, where builders can drop off materials instead of throwing them away. The donations are tax deductible because they are used by charities or to build low-income housing. The program is so successful that other Texas cities, including Houston, have contacted Phillips for advice on doing the same.

Many of Phillips’ homes go to single mothers, and he has also built treehouse-like wooden homes for low-income artists. The intended homeowners take part in the building process. Kristie Stevens, a single mother of two who graduated from college last spring, has spent the last few months working on what will soon become her home.

“If something goes wrong with this house, I won’t have to call someone to fix it because I know where all the wires and pipes are — I can do it myself,” she said. “And if the walls are wonky, it will be my fault but also my pride.”