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Home > Feature Articles > Municipality Strategies for Sustainable Community Best Practices

San Diego County Builds Affordable Green Housing Complex

Solara's green, affordable San Diego apartment complex has leases that run, on average, 40 percent below market in the heart of town.

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Solara is an affordable apartment complex with leases that run, on average, 40 percent below market in the heart of town. Poway, CA in San Diego County has built an environmentally pioneering low-income apartment complex that basically powers itself.

A green-built, government-financed, affordable-housing complex

Experts call it the first of its kind in the state, and possibly the nation: a green-built, government-financed, affordable-housing complex that's virtually climate neutral, constructed with minimum pollution and maximum energy efficiency.

Greenscaping isn't all about native plants -- Solara includes landscaping that is edible; including sage, rosemary and lemon trees. Edible landscaping has a long history in California as community gardens, victory gardens and even container gardens have always supplemented incomes for home gardeners.

“It's really an innovative project. It serves as a living, breathing program to serve as a model,” said Adam Gottlieb of the California Energy Commission. “Not only are they building smart and fighting climate change, but they are reducing greenhouse gases for the rest of us.”

The energy commission subsidized the $18.5 million Solara complex to help create a working example for developers in the public and private sectors on how to build cheap and green. They've created a lasting resource that writes the book on environmental public policy.

Affordable-housing Developers

Only 2 percent of affordable-housing developers integrate renewable energy features into their projects, according to the Energy Commission. Yet utility bills can be the crushing blow for some people living on the edge financially.

The city of 50,000 residents is expected to follow the green wave in future public housing projects, six of which are in the pipeline.

Pedestrian Communities Save Transportation Expenses

Pedestrian communities also save on auto-traffic and expenses. Because of Solara's central location, residents will be able to walk to stores, movies, the market, the pool, the parks and the library.

Global Green, Resource for Planning and Financial Assistance

Santa Monica-based nonprofit, Global Green combats global warming and nuclear proliferation. This organization helped find ways to make Poway's complex financially feasible, while still using the best materials and technologies available. It helped Community Housing solve problems such as where to find alternative air conditioners that don't run on ozone-depleting Freon, yet don't cost so much that they escalate the cost-efficiency of an affordable-housing project.
  • Fluorescent lighting is one of the many energy-efficient features at Solara.
  • Air conditioners at the 56-unit complex use non-Freon coolant.
  • The apartments also have energy-saving, tankless water heaters.
  • The shade structures for the carports hold the solar panels that convert the sun's rays into electricity.
  • Position of the buildings were shifted to take advantage of natural breezes and designed window openings to offer cooling cross-ventilation.
  • Double-paned windows restrict temperature loss.
  • Roofs use heat-reflecting materials
  • Attics and walls are filled with nontoxic, formaldehyde-free insulation.
  • There are energy-saving, tankless water heaters and dual-flush toilets.
  • Threaded through the complex is eye-catching public art, all using recycled materials.
  • In the community center, which features a computer lab where after-school tutoring programs will be held, there's a large kaleidoscope filled with glittering bits of broken glass that children can turn like a bicycle wheel.

SOURCE: Eco-friendly units were designed for low-income families
By Lisa Petrillo


Global Green USA Global Green USA is a national environmental organization addressing three of the greatest challenges facing humanity:
  • Stemming global climate change by creating green buildings and cities.
  • Eliminating weapons of mass destruction that threaten lives and the environment.
  • Providing clean, safe drinking water for the 2.4 billion people who lack access to clean water. President Gorbachev founded the organization in order to create a new approach to solving the world's most pressing environmental challenges by reconnecting humanity to the environment.

Community Housing Works Community HousingWorks is a San Diego nonprofit that helps people and neighborhoods move up in the world by providing a full range of housing options combined with training and support. Community HousingWorks has a successful 20-year history as a developer and owner of affordable rental apartments in urban, suburban and rural communities across San Diego County. Our nationally award-winning developments serve diverse communities, including Carlsbad, City Heights, San Diego's Shelltown, Escondido, Fallbrook, Lakeside, Oceanside, Poway, and Vista. We have completed over 1,300 rental and cooperative apartments in 25 housing complexes, and have some 300 apartments in progress.

California Energy Commission's renewable energy program The Division is committed to making California's businesses, homes, and appliances more energy efficient. This commitment is achieved by:
  • Developing and implementing energy efficiency building standards that help ensure comfort and affordability
  • Identifying and developing ways to streamline energy use in agriculture, manufacturing, water systems, and processing functions
  • Letting Californians know that using energy wisely is a good investment in the economy and the environment
  • Analyzing demand and consumption trends to assist in policy decisions
  • Assist Schools (K-12), Public Colleges & Hospitals, Local Government, and others to identify and implement energy efficiency measures.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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