“Green” or “sustainable” buildings use key resources like energy, water, materials, and land much more efficiently than buildings that are simply built to code. Dimensions such as site planning, indoor environmental air quality, materials, resources and water efficiency are some things these new breeds of built environment take into account. The process begins with the building walk-through or site assessment that usually occurs at the onset of any rehab project, and continues until delivery. While certain green measures may result in an increase in initial costs, integrating green strategies into a project will lower operating costs through energy efficiency savings and reduced maintenance and equipment replacement.
Local non-profits, with the help of neighborhood leaders, coordinating council, local utilities and other strategic partners, are increasingly supporting and accelerating the incorporation of sustainable building principles into the design, construction and management of a full range of projects. Green rehabilitation initiatives are dedicated to reducing the loss of rental housing that is affordable to low-income families, especially the federally-assisted housing facing expiring rent and mortgage subsidies. Affordable and sustainable housing developments that integrate green building into their rehabilitation projects benefit from lower energy bills, equipped with equipment and products that are more durable and require less maintenance, and an overall healthier building environment for the occupants.
Kansas City’s Green Impact Zone is fighting the battle with increasing unemployment with job trainings in alternative, green and clean technologies. The Mid-American Regional council’s housing improvements are dealing with the issues of abandonment and that is a serious challenge. Upon meeting certain guidelines, no-cost assistance through the Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program is available, primarily to the elderly, families with children, people with high energy bills and people with disabilities.
For individuals or groups who may not qualify under the Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program, EnergyWorks KC, a City-based resource for energy-efficiency program, advises on ways to minimize homes’ and business’ energy usage and reduce waste and assist in accessing funding sources to make improvements. Kansas City Power and Light and Missouri Gas and Energy, organizations that power the city have teamed up with ENERGY STAR to provide rebates of up to $1,200 for energy audits and improvements.
Cities around the nation are taking a more sustainable approach to rehabbing properties but the question of fiscal viability still remains: Is it financially wise for a low-income housing community to invest in a project that pays out years down the road? Are local reductions in emissions from energy usage from these houses negated by larger buildings in the area that waste energy? Should it be a local, grass-roots initiative or could state or federal support in these programs catalyze further change?
Credits: Photographs by Martin Seliger. Data linked to sources.