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DC to build supergreen, affordable homes in Deanwood

The Zhome, a ten-unit sustainable project in Washington state, may provide a hint of what is to come in D.C.

The District of Columbia has been selected to create an affordable housing project focused on sustainability by the International Living Future Institute.
The West Coast-based nonprofit is providing technical assistance to the District to help it create a sustainable series of townhomes in Deanwood. The 10-15 homes will be geared toward District households earning less than 80% of the area median income. While the project is still in the concept phase, it’s known that the homes will be constructed to achieve net-positive energy usage (meaning the homes create more energy than they use) and net-zero water usage, in addition to being built with nontoxic and sustainably sourced materials.
“Our mission is to lead and support the transformation toward communities that are socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative," says Kathleen Smith, technical director of the Living Future Institute's Living Building Challenge.
But, green and affordable? Isn’t green expensive? “That’s an illusion. There are brown buildings with no green standards, which are more expensive than the green buildings,” says Bill Updike, the interim deputy director of the Urban Sustainability Administration at the District's Department of Energy and the Environment. “There are certain things if structured in a particular way will have additional costs. If you put up solar panels, it will have cost, but they will pay themselves off soon,” he says.
“Within the homeownership community in the district, there was a recent study that shows that 25% of district’s home owners are cost burdened meaning, they spent more than 30% of their income on utilities. And, 10% of the district’s household are severely cost burdened; which means, more than 50% of their salaries are spent on utilities,” says Molly Simpson, Program Analyst, Greening Affordable Housing, DOEE. "When we talk about green and affordable living, we are also talking about reducing that monthly utility cost, which gives them more room to pay for education for their children, transportation, food,” she adds.
Smith points out that though innovation can be more expensive compared to traditional designs, one needs to look at the long-term sustainability. “For many in the US, rent and mortgage is unaffordable, so is their utility bills. With these choices, you can greatly reduce it or even eliminate it. It is a monthly on-going forever cost saving for the residents,” She further adds, “Also, there are a lot of studies going on public health. The cost of health care is high. If you are investing in a healthy home, with less outbreaks of allergies and asthma, you can reduce the healthcare cost as well. So, looking through a holistic and long range perspective, it is a more economic choice.”

Read more articles by Ammu Zachariah.

Ammu Zachariah is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.
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