New `green' housing - for less green

Baltimore complex part of national effort to show energy-efficient can be affordable

June 09, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

There are no solar panels soaking up sunshine, no plants on the roof to sop up rain.

But the new 80-unit apartment house in West Baltimore represents a new kind of "green" building - one that is environmentally friendlier than a traditional structure and yet still affordable to older residents on fixed or low incomes.

New Shiloh Village Senior Living is the first Baltimore project of a three-year-old nationwide effort to demonstrate that housing for low- and moderate-income residents can be designed and built in ways that are healthier and more sustainable. The $10 million, four-story building is also part of an ambitious redevelopment of the former Cloverland Dairy off Reisterstown Road by the New Shiloh Baptist Church.

City and state officials, the project's partners and others plan to gather today to celebrate the building's completion.

The one- and two-bedroom apartments have been furnished with energy-efficient appliances, and floors and walls have been coated with low-emitting carpet and paints - meaning the units and common areas largely lack the "new" smell of chemical fumes from freshly installed wall and floor coverings. Double-paned windows and extra wall insulation help keep the summer heat out and should yield extra savings on utilities for tenants.

"I love it," said Diane Thornton, 66, of her neat one-bedroom apartment. A lone box remained on the floor by the entryway from her move two weeks ago from another West Baltimore senior apartment building.

"Green" and affordable once were thought to be incompatible, with solar collectors, other environmental design features and building materials considered too costly to incorporate in housing for the less affluent. But officials with Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable-housing foundation based in Columbia, say they're showing how to marry the two concepts.

Three years ago, Enterprise launched "Green Communities," a five-year, $555 million initiative to finance construction of 8,500 homes that would be both green and affordable. Foundation officials say they have more than 8,000 housing units built, under construction or in development across the country.

"We've proven that you can do both, you should have both, and in fact you should have nothing less than both," said Dana Bourland, senior program director of the Green Communities effort.

Enterprise has developed guidelines that incorporate some green-building innovations, focusing on energy efficiency and use of recycled or environmentally friendlier materials. Other "green" features include the siting of buildings to ensure they are accessible to public transit and within easy walking distance of shopping and various community services.

But Bourland said. "It's not just about energy efficiency. It's about integrating a more holistic approach to the way we're producing housing. Buildings have an enormous impact on the environment."

While solar collectors and "green roofs" - rooftops covered with plants to help insulate a building and soak up rainfall runoff - are among the more visible features of green homes, they can cost more up front. Other features that are less showy and costly can yield benefits, and even reduce the cost of living for the residents, but they require planning and changes in building design and construction practices.

"You have to think about it early," said Bourland. "You can't just throw in some green `bling' and call it a day."

By working with the U.S. Green Building Council, government officials and developers, costs of the projects so far have been kept at no more than 2 percent to 4 percent higher than in traditional affordable housing, Bourland said. The Enterprise financing helps cover the added up-front costs, while tenants are expected to see savings in utility costs over time.

"This is the first Green Communities building in Baltimore City, and it's actually our first green building as a development team," said Christine Madigan, senior vice president of Enterprise Homes, a division of the foundation. "So you know, we pursued, generally speaking, the more tried and true green methods."

But Madigan said that Enterprise would be looking to include even more green-building technology in the future.

New Shiloh Village was built across Windsor Street from the 6,000-member Baptist church, on land that had been used for church parking. The church has a Head Start child care center nearby and plans a health facility and a multipurpose center in the same complex, according to Michael Barland, executive director of New Shiloh Community Development Corp.

The building has several community spaces on the ground floor, including a room for social events and neighborhood meetings, a beauty salon, laundry and crafts, and a computer room. The aim, say the developers, is to provide conveniences and services for the residents.

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