Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 26, 2013

Editorial: Habitat, HomeStretch take a new path to affordability

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — The folks at Habitat for Humanity are used to setting — and reaching — goals that others may think are pretty far out there.

But those who bet against the home-building organization may want to tour some of the dozens of homes Habitat has built for low-income families in the Grand Traverse region in the past 25 years or so before laying down their cash.

And they’re at it again, this time at what will be the group’s most high-profile, high-wire act yet. Habitat says 10 of the homes it plans to build in the 21-home Depot Neighborhood at the southwest corner of Eighth Street and Woodmere Avenue will be what Habitat is calling net zero-energy, designed to create enough energy to pay utility and heating bills.

That’s a tall order that Habitat acknowledges.

“Obviously, we are targeting this definition, and may or may not reach that goal,” said Project Manager Ryan McCoon. “But it is our goal.”

HomeStretch Nonprofit Housing Corp., a development partner, will build an additional five energy-efficient duplexes and a single home in the Depot Neighborhood. Pending permit approvals, the two nonprofits hope to break ground for infrastructure at the site next month and build eight of the 21 planned units by the end of the year.

Habitat wants the Depot Neighborhood to become the first net-zero Habitat community in Michigan. HomeStretch has the same goal, but must still find a way to creatively finance solar panels that will be part of its project.

“At this point, solar is still very expensive,” McCoon said.

He likens the planned homes to a thermos. Sealing and insulating a home makes it much cheaper to heat and cool. He estimates the unsubsidized cost of construction at roughly $140 per foot. The norm nowadays is $200 or so in the downtown area. He said he’s proved the energy-efficient concept in a home on Bass Lake Road, which has a heating and cooling bill of just $220 for a year. Given that a lot of Grand Traverse-area homeowners pay that for heat in a single winter month, that’s an amazing figure.

Even triple that amount is only $50 or so a month. While that may not be zero-energy range, it’s certainly lower than probably 95 percent of the housing stock in the region and helps make a home truly affordable.

This is still on the if-come, of course, and HomeStretch’s reliance on solar will likely be heavily subsidized. But if Habitat can prove that low-income housing can have a significant green footprint, that could open some doors — and some eyes.