How an ancient building method is attacking affordable housing in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City start-up Civic Saint is using an ancient idea to attack the very modern program of rising housing prices.

Founder Godfrey Riddle had to find just the right mix of dirt, soil, sand, and water to create a brick that’s stronger than concrete for the heavy load it has to carry.

“My family lost our home to foreclosure twice growing up so it seeded in me an interest in solving for that problem,” Riddle said.

He started Civic Saint as a for-profit business with a mission to help build wealth and make affordable and sustainable homes. That started with throwing out traditional building materials and using compressed earthen blocks (CEB’s) instead of timber, wood, or steel.

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“When you are wanting to garden or do any type of construction, they typically go down and throw that fill soil away because it’s hard to work with,” Riddle said. “So it’s a waste product in most cases and I’m turning it into a viable building product.”

Part of the $138,500 Civic Saint has raised already goes into testing soils to find sources with the proper mixture.

“CEB’S can go four stories high before you need to add a much of ancillary structural support or make the walls thicker,” Riddle said. “I think that’s great.”

It works because Civic Saint’s buildings aren’t meant to be tall.

Riddle is looking to make 400-square foot mini units that could sell for $50-60,000 or 800-square foot two-bedroom homes that would sell for around $130,000.

Right now, Redfin says the median price for a home is around $250,000 and is generally increasing, leaving a lot of people out.

It’s why Pat Jordan gave Civic Saint space in the Gem Cultural and Educational Center space at Vine Street Studio.

“If you can bring to market and figure out a way to manufacture a house for less than $125,000 in this day in age, wow, you’re a hero,” Jordan said.

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She led the Gem Theatre renovation in the 18th and Vine District and says innovative solutions like Riddle’s are will make it easier to find more people better places to live at the right price.

“We have to look at start-ups like Godfrey’s Civic Saint imitative in the same way that we look at the tech industry,” Jordan said. “We have to invest in it. We have to take the risk, and it’s all about a better tomorrow.”

It means finding the right mixture for the CEB’s is also a way to build solutions for people who need them.

“We are struggling with missing middle development,” Riddle said. “So those would be six-plexes, four-plexes, eight-plexes, core single-family development, condos. Just that variety is really missing.”

Civic Saint plans to build a façade in the next few weeks to prove how the blocks would work together. He plans to build a full prototype in the spring that people will be able to walk through by the fall.

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