With its location in the heart of the city, Cherry Gardens residents have easy access to shops, parks, restaurants, a hospital, and public transportation.

“We maximized all the LEED points for the site linkages, because it is in walking distance to so many things,” Royster says.

In addition, the project earned points for its R-19 wall insulation, low-E windows, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and Energy Star appliances and lighting. An LP Tech Shield radiant barrier protects the building from the hot southern sun, cutting monthly air conditioning costs by up to 17%, and fiberglass attic insulation provides an R-value of 38.

The property achieved a HERS rating of 79, 21% more energy efficient than a standard new multifamily building.

“We really wanted to target energy efficiency because the residents will pay their own electric utility bills,” Woollard says. “The benefits go directly to long-term residents where those saving can make a big difference.”

Project planners also focused on occupants’ health and comfort, especially on healthy indoor air for residents who may already be dealing with chronic problems such as asthma. They speced products with little or no off-gassing, including low-VOC paint from Pittsburgh Paint, Green Label-certified carpeting, Greenguard-certified GypCrete floor underlayment, and low-formaldehyde laminate countertops. In addition, a Panasonic spot ERV system provides fresh air ventilation to each apartment.

To deter termites, prevalent in North Carolina, all wood in and around the building’s foundation was sprayed with a low-toxicity borate treatment instead of using a soil treatment which can contaminate groundwater.
“Most of the things we did inside aren’t a flashy kind of green, they are focused on energy-efficient and healthy green,” says Woollard.

The city’s Housing Trust Fund, which finances affordable housing, contributed more than $1 million of the project’s estimated $3.7 million budget. Financing for the rest of the project came from several regional nonprofits and banks.

Open since April 28, the independent living facility is more than halfway leased. Available to seniors age 55 and older who earn less than 60% of the area’s median income, the one-bedroom units are rented on a sliding scale from $205 to $582. Comparable market-rate one-bedroom units nearby are priced between $710 and $1,000, according to Royster.

“There is a great need for affordable housing in the lower reaches of the income strata, especially for seniors who are on fixed incomes, and with this current market, Cherry Gardens fills a real need,” says Woollard.

  • With a brick and Hardiplank siding exterior, the complex houses 42 independent living units, 12 of which are handicap accessible.

    Credit: Moken Photography

    With a brick and Hardiplank siding exterior, the complex houses 42 independent living units, 12 of which are handicap accessible.

Still, he notes, some affordable housing proponents might criticize the project for its use of high-performance products and technologies. “The thought is that what people need is affordable housing, not necessarily green affordable housing--that we shouldn’t be losing units in order to finance eco-friendly features,” Woollard says.

But he believes that offering efficient, healthy, and durable housing is in the best interest of affordable housing organizations and their clients. “We are going to try to make affordable green housing part of our mission, and we’re encouraged by a lot of our funding sources to do so,” he says. “The bottom line is that affordable housing is a social good and the green piece of it is important also.”

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor, Online for EcoHome.