Green Low-Income Housing: 5 Developments Making Eco-Friendly Living Affordable

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Image credit: Silver Gardens green rental apartments, Albuquerque NM

Today’s article is a guest post  from Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, one of the authors of respected sustainability resource

In his post, Jeff talks about how sustainable living and affordable housing are connected.  To me, this has enormous implications, not only for lowering the impact we have on our environment, but in raising the standards and expectations for quality of life for lower-income residents in cities here in North America, and worldwide.

Jeff mentions 5 development projects in the US that could serve as the spearhead for a new way to approach publicly funded housing in North America; a way to make life better for those living there, as well one that benefits our environment. Take a look …


The phrase “low-income housing” probably doesn’t bring a lot of positive associations to mind: “functional” at best, “low rent” (with all the accompanying connotations) at worst. While the tenements of the mid-20th century have largely given way to smaller multi-family buildings, or even single-family homes in some cases, you likely don’t expect such buildings to come with much in the way of premium features.  And “green” is still a premium.  Right?

Actually, green makes a lot of sense for affordable housing developments. People in need of subsidized housing won’t get very far in terms of lifting themselves out of poverty if the money saved on lower rents ends up going towards utility bills. Efficiency features that make the most of energy and water, and renewable installations that provide a reliable power supply (even if it’s not 100%) not only lighten the environmental footprint of new and existing developments, but also provide ongoing cost savings for residents. Investments in these features by public housing agencies and non-profits could better serve their missions to give people a “hand up” towards economic stability.

A number of housing authorities around the US get it.  And, they are building new developments, or renovating old ones, with “green” in mind. Here are 5 projects that have recognized the long-term benefits of more sustainable development models, and most see it as central to larger urban revitalization:

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Silver Gardens: Opened just last week, the developers of Silver Gardens (pictured above) set out for LEED Platinum status from the outset. Green features include a rainwater collection system and underground cistern, energy-efficient appliances, low-E windows, water-saving plumbing features, low and no-VOC finishes and paints, and close proximity to mass transit. A part of Alburquerque’s Downtown Revitalization Plan, developers funded the project, in part, by the sale of carbon credits that will be generated from the complex’s energy savings.  Jetson Green* has more images of the project.

[*Ed: You can follow Jetson Green on Twitter at @jetsongreen]

2. Jackson, Mississippi’s North Midtown Neighborhood development: This one’s just broken ground, but, when completed, will be the first solar-powered affordable housing project in the state. The sixteen units of housing are part of a larger neighborhood redevelopment project, and the renewable energy systems will be complemented with thermal windows, ENERGY STAR-rated appliances, on-demand gas water heating, and even Smart metering.

3. Denver, Colorado’s Denver Gardens Apartments: An existing project for low-income senior citizens, local non-profit Community Housing Concepts* developed a plan for improving the building (and maintaining its status as affordable housing). Renovations included over $1 million in sustainability features, including solar power, efficient appliances, lighting and windows, and complete rehabs of the the kitchens and baths.

[*Ed: Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, who is behind this development can be followed on Twitter @CHFA]

4. The Bronx, New York City’s Intervale Green: Located in the South Bronx, once famous for its blight, Intervale Green is a project of the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDCO*). Designed for ENERGY STAR Multifamily certification, the building features a green roof, 85% efficient boilers, and specially-approved lower exhaust ventilation (based on the claim that current codes require over-ventilation of buildings).

[*Ed: You can follow WHEDCO on Twitter @WHEDCO]

5. Compton, California’s Casa Dominguez: A project of low-income housing developer Abode Communities, Casa Dominguez not only features green building features such as blown-in insulation made from recycled materials, greywater systems, and prefabricated framing, but also hosts an onsite clinic, child care center, and counseling service to reduce transportation needs of residents.

While the growth of sustainable building practices means that prices should eventually come down for all, it’s good to see that both public and non-profit private entities recognize that efficiency and light impacts are smart investments… for the environment, as well as community development and family support.

Know of a green affordable housing project not mentioned here? Share it with us!


A former English professor, Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is a certified “old-timer” in the green blogosphere: he started the long-running sustainability blog, sustainablog in July, 2003, and is still at it.  He’s also a co-founder of Green Options Media, a former writer at Treehugger, and a current contributor to the Sundance Channel’s SUNfiltered blog.

Sustainablog now hosts a green products marketplace. Lower your own  carbon footprint (and utility bills) with our selection of ENERGY STAR-rated appliances.

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