Posted on July 11, 2010 11:34 pm

A legacy of Katrina: Green homes

In this city on the mend, hundreds of state-of-the-art sustainable, energy-efficient homes are being built in lower-income neighborhoods, a trend that’s outpacing most of the rest of the country.

More than 500 homes are being built with features such as solar panels, rain-catching cisterns and eco-friendly materials in neighborhoods that received the brunt of the damage from the 2005 floods following Hurricane Katrina. Hundreds of other homes are being given green upgrades.

“New Orleans is certainly a leader in that regard,” says Suzanne Watson of the Washington-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “The scale at which they’re doing it is remarkable.”

Green building has traditionally been left to higher-end homes, whose owners can afford the costlier solar panels and other elements, says Forest Bradley-Wright of the New Orleans-based Alliance for Affordable Energy. But as New Orleans began to rebuild, non-profits stepped in with innovative development techniques and eco-friendly plans to rebuild lower-income neighborhoods such as the Lower 9th Ward and Pontchartrain Park, he says.

“The destruction caused by Katrina necessitated almost every one to rethink how to rebuild their home,” Bradley-Wright says.

Other American cities are building sustainable, energy-efficient housing for lower-income families. The Boston Housing Authority will receive $63 million in federal money for energy-efficiency improvements, the largest public-housing project of that kind in U.S. history. And the Seattle Housing Authority is revamping one of its public housing complexes into 1,700 green energy-efficient units.

But it’s rare for a city to develop so many sustainable and affordable single-family homes, such as New Orleans is doing, as opposed to apartment complexes, which is more the national trend, Watson says.

“What’s happening in New Orleans is incredibly impressive. It shows the tenacity of those working there,” says Dana Bourland, a vice president of Enterprise Community Partners, a Maryland-based non-profit that supports affordable housing efforts nationwide.

New Orleans projects include:

  • Five sustainable homes, an 18-unit apartment complex and a community center in the Holy Cross section of the Lower 9th Ward developed by California-based Global Green USA.
  • 150 eco-friendly homes planned for the Lower 9th Ward by Make It Right, the initiative started by actor Brad Pitt. So far, 34 of the homes have been built.
  • Plans to build more than 100 green homes in the city’s Gentilly neighborhood on a $20 million pledge from the New York-based Riggio Foundation.
  • More than 150 elevated, energy-efficient homes are being planned for the Pontchartrain Park area, an initiative led by actor Wendell Pierce, a New Orleans native best known for his role in HBO series The Wire.

The completed Lower 9th Ward homes range in price from $120,000 to $160,000 and energy bills are 75% lower than comparable homes, says Jon Sader, Make It Right’s construction director.

One of them went to Neal Dupar, 48, whose previous home was destroyed in August 2005 by more than 10 feet of water. He lives with his wife and five children in a new four-bedroom home with solar paneling and improved insulation on the same lot as his previous home. He pays $300 a month less on energy and water bills than in the old house, he says.

“It’s helped a great deal,” Dupar says. “I’d never be able to afford this on my own.”