Nov 16, 2011

Affordable Housing for the Green-Minded

Guest Post From Brittany.

Being green is no longer a privilege of the wealthy. Stony Brook Apartments in the Hybla Valley of southeastern Fairfax County, Virginia recently saw a $33 million dollar renovation, at no cost to its current residents. This investment was made in the name of saving the environment, but doing so in an affordable way. It was funded by a collaboration between the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC) (which developed another 25 affordable housing developments in the region), the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VDHA) and Capital One Bank. This project shows that it is possible for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, to make a change for the greener, cleaner, and better future of our planet.

Consisting of 204 individual apartments in five mid-rise brick apartment buildings, Stony Brook makes a big impact. One of the ways that the apartments' energy requirements are met is with the installation of newer, more energy efficient appliances. For example, energy star refrigerators use 75% less energy than older models. New dish washers and clothes washers not only decrease water use, but clean the clothes more efficiently at the same time. Heating water is one of the top energy consuming activities in a household, so designers installed a solar hot water heater, further cutting consumption at least fifteen percent. Even small details were important, such as the use of energy efficient light bulbs. In addition, bathrooms were equipped with low flow toilets save precious water.

The apartment complex also contains a new community center, which was built with the same parameters as the apartments, as well as a green roof. It is dedicated to improving the lives of its residents by offering classes in English as a second language, computer skills, job search training, education right up through PhDs, and financial literacy, as well as after school programs for children. That's the idea behind places like Stony Brook, after all—to help people get back on their feet, without hurting the environment.

The changes have all been well received by the residents, many of whom are foreign immigrants, mostly from West Africa. Many of these immigrants are especially interested in the conservative efforts because of their home countries, where frequently no such measures are taken to protect the environment. The community also engages its teen residents through a group called Teens Going Green. The teenagers travel around their community, talking to their fellow residents about recycling and other ways to help the environment. By helping to educate people, they are making a big impact, and hopefully learning habits that will stay with them throughout their lives.

There are major benefits to being ecologically green, and the developers of this community wish to showcase the results so that they can be recreated throughout the nation, and throughout the world. Unfortunately, they foresee a decline in investments such as this one, as the national government makes cuts for federal housing budgets. This means that there will be much less money to build affordable green housing developments like this one. It is truly unfortunate because more often than not, improvements to energy efficiency also mean financial and economic savings for residents. After all, using less energy means that energy bills will be lower. All told, the renovations save both the environment, and residents' pocketbooks, making it ecologically and socially friendly.

With commodities such as clean, fresh water becoming more and more rare, it is vitally important to make all attempts to conserve our precious natural resources. Using less energy will lower the burden on power plants, in turn lowering our output of pollution and greenhouse gasses. Even making the smallest changes, such as changing out normal lightbulbs for energy efficient ones, can make a huge difference. While there is an initial investment to making such changes, it is only for the better interest of our own planet and future generations. Housing developers would do well to follow the example of Stony Brook Apartments.

About the Author:
Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.

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