Many in the development/building/construction industries claim that it’s impossible to finance sustainable developments (and often insist that consumers aren’t really interested in them). KRDB Architects in Austin, Texas, have proved them wrong with SOL (solution-oriented living) Austin. Included in the 38-home, net zero energy development are 16 affordable modular housing units, community parks, joint-access driveways (to reduce impervious cover), and even varied setbacks (insuring that one isn’t confronted with a sea of identical houses like in most other housing developments). Recognizing a growing desire for smaller homes for both economic and environmental reasons, the largest SOL property comes in at 1,816 square feet, the smallest at 1,090.
The unconventional project came together successfully in large part because of the collaboration between the non-profit Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corp and the City of Austin Housing Authority. The GNDC committed to 40% of the units (8 rentals they own in perpetuity, and 8 that go to buyers who earn 60-80% of median family income) and the Austin Housing Finance Corporation provided $500,000 in subsidy funds, which made getting the land and development loans, then eventually the construction financing line, far easier. It also had great community support. Says Chris Krager of KRDB Architects, “We really have had zero resistance, and if anything, have found almost without exception, the parties involved incredibly supportive. I chalk this up to the fact that the project is not just a ‘green’ project, but incorporates the social and economic components (community participation/buy-in and affordable housing). East Austin long-time residents are used to developers coming in, in the last 5 to 7 years, and having no regard for the ‘indigenous’ population, in terms of how the project will involve them. Coming to the community, and saying we want your support and participation, made all the difference.”
Despite the generally bleak outlook for residential development these days, Krager remains an optimist. “All in all, I do think SOL is an accessible, transportable model. This was the intention from the beginning. I think architects and planners have an opportunity today to work with communities, developers, and municipalities to proffer an alternative model of development that people are ready to embrace.”