Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=119329
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 1:10:38 PM CST
A new green partnership in DuPage County aims to help limited-income families purchase sustainable, efficient homes.
DuPage Habitat for Humanity, Commonwealth Edison and the College of DuPage last week announced the collaboration, which will result in a $3 million, three-acre residential subdivision called Pioneer Prairie.
“Both locally and globally, Habitat for Humanity is committed to sustainable design,” said Sarah Brachle, executive director of DuPage Habitat.
The community will roll out in phases, Brachle said. The first two homes will be available for qualified buyers by December 2009, four additional homes will be complete in 2010 and the final five will open in 2011.
“As the homes come online, we’ll sell them to the partner families,” Brachle said.
To qualify, buyers must demonstrate a need for affordable housing and meet living and salary requirements, including earning sufficient income to pay 30-year mortgages to DuPage Habitat. They also must complete 250 “sweat equity” hours building homes and participate in finance, budget and home repair classes.
Well-built and energy-efficient homes can help first-time home buyers become financially sustainable, Brachle said.
“Any savings we can offer them in the long term are going to put them in a better position for themselves and their children,” she said.
The project grew out of an earlier collaboration between Habitat and ComEd in which the groups built a sample green home to illustrate how the construction can be completed on a budget.
As part of its Energy Efficiency Showcase, ComEd last year helped restore 12 homes in the Chicago region to use less energy and help homeowners save money. One of those homes was a project of DuPage Habitat.
“We then found out they were building a new subdivision and we looked at it as an opportunity in terms of how we can help them and the future homeowners reduce energy costs,” said Rachel Gerds, communications representative for ComEd. The hope is to construct the most energy-efficient homes possible, she said.
ComEd donated $45,000 to support energy-efficient measures within the home. The company also is donating in-kind services by providing planning expertise to the students involved at the College of DuPage.
As part of the college’s new Sustainability Design Initiative, students will work with industry professionals, including a ComEd energy efficiency professional, to evaluate green building strategies.
“Basically, (the students) are coming up with a series of recommendations for Habitat in terms of what products and other measures could possibly be implemented,” Gerds said. “The real goal of the recommendations is to find the most energy-efficient products or means available while also balancing financial concerns.”
While the homes won’t showcase the most high-tech options, she said, the homes will serve as “something real and tangible that everyone - no matter what their income level - can implement in their own homes,” Gerds said.
Other local programs helping build energy-efficient and green low-income housing include New Homes for South Chicago, a project of the nonprofit Claretian Associates, and Wentworth Commons in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood.
Bethel New Life in Chicago also partnered with Argonne National Laboratories nearly 20 years ago to build energy-efficient homes for qualified buyers. The energy-efficient housing community in West Garfield Park includes 20 units and the program recently constructed a green commercial building.
Launched in the 1990s, the partnership worked to build energy-efficient single family homes, but in 2000 Bethel began also investing in green technology, according to Mildred Iley, senior director of community service at Bethel.
Iley said the Habitat program sounds particularly helpful because people looking to buy affordable housing are having significant trouble getting loans in this economy. “Two years ago we couldn’t build homes fast enough,” she said, “but with the turbulent market we are in, you have a lot of people that want homes but are being blocked out because of their credit scores.”
Habitat, meanwhile, has raised $2.5 million from philanthropies, government agencies and the community. The donations will fund Pioneer Prairie, five scattered-site home rehabilitations, and a 30-year annuity to continuously support affordable home construction in DuPage County.
The DuPage County Community Development Commission is one investor in the project.
“The partnership sounds like an exciting opportunity to decrease energy bills for the families that will be living in these homes, as well as (to become) a more sustainable community and more environmentally friendly,” said Mary Keating, administrator of the county’s community development department.
“It sounds like there are really great public goals that can be met through this partnership.”