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Proposal: Build energy-efficient housing for disadvantaged people

The federal Energy Department last month awarded a grant to Fairbanks-based Cold Climate Housing Research Center for its proposal to build more affordable, energy-efficient housing for low- and middle-income people in the Interior.
U.S. Department of Energy
The federal Energy Department's State and Community Energy Programs office last month awarded a grant to Fairbanks-based Cold Climate Housing Research Center for its proposal to build more affordable, energy-efficient housing for low- and middle-income people in the Interior.

Federal program supports construction of multiunit ‘zero-energy’ housing for residents of Interior communities

The federal Department of Energy has awarded a half-million-dollar grant to help the Fairbanks-based Cold Climate Housing Research Center develop energy-efficient housing for low- to-middle income people around the Interior.

The Energy Futures grant will enable the Cold Climate Housing Research Center and its local, state and tribal government partners to move ahead on a proposal to develop housing powered by clean renewable-energy sources like wind and solar.
Executive Director Mindy O’Neall says the housing research center developed the concept with input from the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Tanana Chiefs Conference and Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

“The whole goal is that we develop a deployment ready, culturally appropriate, multi-use housing complex in a disadvantaged community,” she said.

The proposal is called the Golden Heart Housing Development Plan. It’s the basis for the Alaska proposal, one of 50 from around the country that were awarded grants by the Energy Department. O’Neall says it’ll enable the Alaska partnership to develop housing that’s efficient enough to attain a so-called zero energy rating.

“It would basically set a standard for the most efficient building that we could possibly make in interior Alaska – in the Arctic,” she said in a recent interview.

O’Neall says that kind of affordable, energy-efficient housing is badly needed in the Interior.

“We have a really old stock of housing that was built without energy standards in mind,” she said. “And so we've done a fairly good job of retrofitting houses throughout the years. But those programs kind of come and go based on what sort of funding is available.”

Tanana Chiefs’ Conference infrastructure division Director Dave Messier agrees.

“When Cold Climate Housing Research Center and AHFC presented us with this opportunity … to do the design on a small subdivision or multi-family housing unit specifically aimed at being net zero, it was really just the perfect opportunity for us to collaborate,” he said.

Messier says Tanana Chiefs is considering developing a demonstration unit in Nenana, that could serve as a model for future energy-efficient housing projects around the state.

“Hopefully it’ll be the sort of design plan that we can take to any community in the region,” he said, “and be able to maximize efficiency and construct more than one high-efficiency housing unit as at time.”

Messier says the partnership’s proposal encourages development of multi-unit housing to meet the need for affordable and efficient places to live -- and to get a better price for locally sourced materials and labor.

“If you’re gearing up for a project in a community, if you can find the funding to do more than one house at a time, it’s just improves the economies of scale,” he said. “And our communities get a better bang for the buck and we get more housing built.”

O’Neall emphasizes that the partnership is just beginning to work on the proposal, which among other things will require the partners to identify communities that have the greatest need for affordable energy-efficient housing. And determine the types of energy they have available.

“The plan is really meant to be something that we conceptualize here in phase 1 and then submit for a phase 2 funding,” she said. “That's the building part of it.”

More information about the proposal is available on the Cold Climate Housing Research Center’s website.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.