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California Makes Green Housing Affordable

Solar installations and green development bring sustainable housing to low-income families

By Leslie Berliant

May 11, 2010

Global Green USA is focused primarily on new, multi-family low-income housing developments in California and around the country. In general, targeted communities have been receptive to their focus on renewable energy, efficiency and choosing smart locations near public transportation and services.

"We tend to focus on the aspects of green building that will have a direct benefit to the occupant or owner of the building. What's interesting is that those span the whole gamut of green building," said Bardacke, who is also the author of Global Green USA's book Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing.

"From a location perspective, we want those buildings to be located in places that are accessible to public transit and not car-dependent because the need to own a car is a major drain on people’s pocket books," he added. "For many, monthly transportation costs can be as large as or more than rent. We think about the reduction in carbon from public transportation, but it has a big impact on low income residents."

The building in their Chula Vista, California, development, which has been open for one year, is a net exporter of energy. Beginning next year, about half of the tenants will start getting checks from San Diego Gas and Electric. Another project in San Jose gives all residents free public transportation passes as both an environmental and economic incentive.

According to Bardacke, California is not alone when it comes to low-income green housing.

Georgia, Connecticut and several other states scored higher in terms of low-income housing tax credits and incentives, according to a . And in , Global Green USA has opened the first low-income green housing developments. Now, most low-income housing projects there are following suit and incorporating sustainability.

Policy Advantages

Where California has an edge is in access to sustainable materials and components, as well as some important pieces of legislation. The Global Warming Solutions Act, or , for example, mandates reductions in greenhouse gases. With that and other policies, California makes building affordable and environmentally friendly housing more doable than elsewhere, Bardacke said.

"Costs are tight, but when green building is a goal from the beginning... the project teams can almost always figure out how to build it within the allotted budget," he said.

In fact, a recent study from found that a 2 percent upfront cost increase in making low-income housing more energy and water efficient paid for itself. Specifically, making homes Energy Star-compliant or better, iimproving water conservation and using some environmentally safe materials improved ventilation. Choosing sites close to transportation and services also had a net positive economic result.

Economics aside, the housing units studied also resulted in two tons fewer CO2 emissions annually compared to buildings without these efficiency measures.

Bardacke also said that it is important to forget our ideas about low-income housing projects.

"The image of affordable housing being run down and of poor quality is wrong," he said. "It's misguided and it’s out of date. It's often better than market housing."

See also:

Katrina Sparks a Revolution in Green Modular Housing

California Greening: State's New Green Building Codes Have Some Crying Foul

Incentivizing the Green Buildup

(Photo via GRID Alternatives)

Solar Communities

Solar energy technology has made leaps these past years. We are starting to understand how to mimic what nature does so well. The sun is a tremendous source of energy and is what makes life possible for us. By learning and adapting nature's tools for our own use, we can ensure sustainability for the developing areas of the world, a cleaner atmosphere, and overall better quality of life. The California example shows the potential of these improved technologies towards strengthening our communities and energy infrastructure.
Want to learn more about balanced energy for America? Visit Consumer Energy Alliance to get involved, discover CEA’s mission and sign up for our informative newsletter.


Great points here! I'd like to emphasize the point about making this affordable for the poor (less than $20k income). It's going to impact those people first and climb up from there.

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