The Color of Affordability

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Green, of course, comes in only one color. But "green" houses come in every shape, size and, nowadays, price range.

[Photo: EarthCraft house]
EarthCraft house.

Consider the recent EarthCraft Green Building Tour in Charlottesville, Virginia hosted by the Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association. Each of the ten featured homes was designed and built as EarthCraft houses, therefore exceeding the latest Energy Star standards from the foundation to the attic and everywhere in between.

An area that is just a few miles east from Shenandoah National Park, home to the University of Virginia and consistently ranked as one of America's most livable communities, it's no surprise that at least one of the ten houses was priced at over $1 million and a number over $500,000.

But also on parade this year were a three-bedroom, 1,120 square-foot and a four-bedroom, 1,235 square-foot Habitat houses at 316 and 318 Valley Road. The houses were built with supplies donated by local builders, financial assistance through HUD's HOME and CDBG programs and, most importantly, lots and lots of "sweat equity" provided by scores of Habitat volunteers.

Both of the Habitat houses are just as "green" as their million-dollar cousin and should meet, and "they should pass EarthCraft and Energy Star with flying colors." And, in the Habitat tradition, obviously both will be affordable to families with modest incomes.

"Green has long been the color of money," HUD Richmond Field Office Director Bill Miles added, "but now it's more and more the color of smart, affordable housing. As these two Habitat houses demonstrate, there's simply no reason why green housing can't be affordable housing."

"Over the past couple of years, all of Habitat Charlottesville's homes have become a bit greener. EarthCraft certification is a natural next step," said Overton McGehee, Executive Director of Greater Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity. "Habitat already embraced many EarthCraft techniques and obtaining certification has only provided additional volunteer-friendly activities to the construction process. The affordability test should consider more than just the sales price. Our families have very fixed monthly spending allowances, so reducing their utility bills is one more way to insure their success in a new home. We've been very fortunate to have community support in funding some of the extra features that will ultimately make the homes more affordable to operate and maintain."

"Green building techniques - particularly when they follow EarthCraft standards and guidelines - are a perfect fit in an area where summers are hot and humid and winters are mild," commented Jay Willer, Executive Vice President of the Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association. "And many of the members of our Association are fully committed to green, no matter the size, shape or price of the house they're building. Green obviously makes good environmental sense, but the diversity of houses in this year's parade proves it also makes economic sense. Simply put, going green is no longer a luxury, but a common sense value virtually any buyer can afford. For many Charlottesville area builders, green has become standard operating procedure."

HUD, the nation's homeownership agency, encourages partners receiving its funds, to promote energy efficiency under a 21-point Energy Action Plan first proposed by then-Deputy Secretary Alphonso Jackson in 2001. HUD estimates that reducing its energy costs by just 5 percent could save up to $2 billion over the next 10 years.

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