Monday, January 9, 2012

Green Affordable Might Be Here

I just read about a new develop in California focused on providing green affordable and modular housing. The Tierra Del Sol development in Stockton, California includes the construction of 22 homes that are planned to be Net Zero Energy homes. The homes were designed and built by California base ZETA Communities, which specializes in modular construction and high energy efficiency. The developer Visionary Home Builders of California also has a relatively good track record of building both rental and home-ownership developments that target low and very-low income families.

Now I’m always very skeptical when I here about new developments that mix these three.
One reason is that after a bit of investigation I often find that the the term affordable is often thrown around when I don’t think it should be. I’ve seen one too many projects where affordability is only achieved through enormous amounts of subsidy financing.  In many of these cases, the true cost is hidden, or the concept of affordable is skewed. One recent example that I looked into had claimed that a $250,000 home would be affordable to low-income households. After further investigation I found out that not only was the term affordable misused (they were actually referring to households up to 140% of area median income), but the real cost of the homes also didn’t include a $350.00/month HOA fee.

But in this case, the Tierra Del Sol community appears to be on tract for both affordability and green features. The homes will be sold at the ridiculously low price of $160,000. At least that’s very-low priced for California and at 1,268 sq/ft these are not incredibly small homes either.  The homes are considered Net Zero Energy and should create little or no utility bills (at least electric bills) for the home owners.

Each home includes solar panels to supplement energy usage, but the greatest savings comes from the incredibly high level of insulation (up to R-50 in the roof) and weather sealing that’s being used. Indoor air quality is something that often suffers when builders try to get too air tight, but ZETA appears to have planned ahead and will be using natural (non-electric) air exchange systems that will keep indoor air fresh and clean.

The financing plan also includes up to $30,000 in down payment assistance to low-income families, so the eventual cost should be affordable to households at or below 80% of the area median income for Stockton. In fact, these prices would even be affordable here in Austin, which is by far a more affordable housing market than Stockton.

To say the least, I’m impressed with the information that I’ve found so far. I hope they can continue to replicate this model in California and elsewhere.