Ecology Center helping to make affordable housing 'greener'

To 'better serve both its residents and our communities'

Public housing in Ann Arbor will become “greener,” healthier, more comfortable and more energy efficient, thanks to a project under way that includes significant involvement from the Ecology Center.

Jason Bing, healthy buildings director at the Ecology Center, is working with the Ann Arbor Housing Commission and Norstar Development on two new affordable housing projects that are intended to be models of green and healthy residential construction. When complete, the housing units should lower utility costs, as well as provide homes that are more comfortable and healthier for their residents.

“This project addresses how quality affordable housing can better serve both its residents and our communities,” Bing says. A registered architect with experience in coordinating and administering healthy, high performance residential and commercial buildings, Bing will be working with residents on outreach and education and will provide guidance and information to city officials, contractors and the housing commission and its staff.

Work began earlier this year on the AAHC’s North Maple Estates site, where 20 single-family detached units will be replaced by a proposed 42 units of attached-style townhouses. Increasing the number of units will help reduce the AAHC’s waiting list of more than 500 families looking for affordable housing. The North Maple project is anticipated to be completed in mid-2016.

Bing’s work on the program is supported by local, state and federal grants.
The main goals are to maximize energy efficiency; reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals from the buildings; and use more durable materials to reduce operating costs and promote resource conservation.

“Energy costs are a very large burden for the AAHC’s residents,” Bing says. “Low-income households pay a much larger share of their discretionary income on utilities than average households. So in addition to providing more efficient homes, we’re going to be reaching out to residents on ways they can get the most out of their energy use.”

But the benefits of the project could go much farther, demonstrating the value of good affordable housing to the community as a whole.

“If we build them right, we can increase the value of adjacent neighborhoods, and help people on the path to economic stability,” Bing says. And reducing toxic chemicals in the home should help children stay healthy, leading to better educational outcomes. “Folks have a better chance to succeed if they live in a healthier environment.”

In addition to more efficient housing units, the projects will look at other innovative energy solutions. “There’s a really interesting opportunity to explore solar energy in community housing environments,” Bing says. “And we’re also looking at the role of community centers and how they serve at-risk folks during severe weather.”

Community gardens, better storm-water management and other plans are also in the works.

Why is the Ecology Center involved? “This work is a great fit for our decades-long commitment to green and healthy housing, and our role in the national conversation about environmental health,” Bing says.

EcoLink — July 2014 Ecolink
An online publication of the Ecology Center

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