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Hampshire College student built a house from scratch for refugees

(Collegian File Photo)

In hopes of finishing his undergraduate career on a good note, Rody Lipson, 22, a senior sustainable architecture major at Hampshire College, just finished building a tiny house from scratch for Syrian refugees.

Lipson thought of this idea last February when he was deciding what to do for his senior thesis project. When people asked Lipson why he chose Syrian refugees and not any other particular group of people in need, he said he made the decision based on the political climate at the time.

In an interview with Daily Hampshire Gazette, Lipson said, “I chose that particular group because when I started conceptualizing the project Trump had just started banning refugees.”

“It was the political climate, and recognizing that these are a group [of people] that could really use our compassion and not our suspicion.” he added.

Between February and the summer of 2017, Lipson began crowdfunding online using websites like Generosity and Indiegogo. Within four months, he raised $10,000.

“It was not light work, I spent a lot of time putting together a website and emailing people trying to get the message across,” said Lipson.

“Raising the money was a lot less challenging than I thought it was going to be. The fact that people were willing to fund for this made me realize what a powerful tool crowdfunding is,” he continued.

After raising enough money to get started, Lipson began designing the house himself. He planned for it to be as environmentally friendly as possible by using solar panels and a composting toilet.

Lipson faced a couple of roadblocks along the way.

Typically, building a small house that size would cost between $15,000 to $30,000. Lipson was under the impression that he could build it for less if he used more recycled materials. Lipson thought the idea was great in theory, but hard to implement.

“Those materials were pretty much impossible to find,” he said.

Although Lipson had initially intended for the house to be given to a Syrian family to live in, that’s not what ended up happening.

Another roadblock that he encountered was that the organization that he wanted to give the house to didn’t actually know what to do with a tiny house. He says that most towns don’t want people living in tiny houses, because they are not up to code.

Because of that, Lipson decided it was best to put the house up on Craigslist, and donate the money to a nonprofit organization.

The house is portable and is bolted to a trailer so it can be taken anywhere.

After finishing with the exterior of the house, Lipson sold the house to a young couple for $10,000. He said that the couple is going to finish the interior, put up solar panels and make the house their own.

Lipson chose to send the money to the International Rescue Committee which works with resettling refugees and helping them find housing, jobs and education. They have offices all over the world, but Lipson particularly chose to send the money to the New York office so it can help people in the area.

Alex Boyd, a Hampshire College senior forestry major, was among the individuals who helped Lipson with the construction of the house. He said this was the best initiative to give Lipson the building experience he needed before graduating, and wishes there were more initiatives like this one.

“It’s super important, especially in this country today, to raise awareness on refugee issues,” said Boyd. “They need our help.”

Afnan Nehela can be reached at

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