Paul Schissler, executive director of the non-profit Kulshan Community Land Trust, contends that a sustainable community isn’t just about green houses that are within walking distances of schools, office buildings, and stores; it’s about providing affordable homes with low operating costs so anyone can afford them. And that’s what Kulshan set out to do when it erected Matthei Place, a single-family-home development in Bellingham, Wash. Building 14 houses that were both green and affordable required an innovative arrangement with Bellingham. The Demonstration Program for Innovative Permanently Affordable Homeownership Projects allowed the developer to bypass requirements for frontage space, lot size, parking requirements, and more in exchange for constructing houses that were reasonably priced to lower- and middle-income buyers. Bellingham changed the rules so 50% more homes could fit on the site, with no extra cost to the city, and transferred a nearby retention pond for underwater stormwater detention to Kulshan.
In exchange, the agreement required Matthei Place to include stormwater retention features, which the developer accomplished using green techniques. For the parking lots, Klushan used pervious pavers over a thick layer of gravel, which allows stormwater to slowly percolate into the groundwater. Three culverts store additional stormwater underground, and gardens and natural vegetation are soaked by rainwater runoff.
Location: Bellingham, Wash.
Kulshan Community Land TrustBuilder: Brian Wellman, Wellman & Zuck
Architect: Sharon Robinson, Zervas Group Architects
Size: 14 single-family homes
Housing type: Permanently affordable homes with one-time
- Pervious paving; rainwater irrigation
- Native, drought-tolerant plants
- Low-flow fixtures
- Energy Star-rated appliances
- Electric radiant heat with programmable thermostats
- Low-VOC adhesives, caulks, and paints
- Walking distance to schools, buses, and city amenities
The water-saving features are just a few of the development’s eco-friendly aspects. Although the developer assumed natural gas would be the most economical fuel source, a local building performance center found that electricity would be more cost-efficient for heating. So, the buildings sport radiant heaters with zoned programmable thermostats, while passive solar gain helps reduce the load.
In addition to green products and design, the development offers homeowners training on how to maintain the durability and performance of their dwellings, along with a comprehensive manual and follow-up support.
Matthei Place was a pilot project in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes program, and Schissler hopes it will be certified LEED-Silver. The development’s strategic location and home density, in addition to its low-flow fixtures, Energy Star-rated appliances, fiber-cement siding, low-VOC coatings, user’s manual, and other earth-friendly amenities should enable it to meet the criteria, he says.
Although the houses cost more to build than low- to moderate- income families can afford, the non-profit developer used public and private financing to keep sales prices affordable ($140,000 to $180,000). A non-profit community land trust corporation, Kulshan owns land and holds it "in trust" forever for the benefit of the community. The homes are kept "permanently affordable" even when they are resold through a shared equity strategy that provides owners with a reasonable rate of return. (Learn more about shared equity here).
"I believe permanent affordability at the right location, close to where the jobs are, will become an ever increasingly vital part of creating sustainable communities," Schissler says.