Solar panels and “green houses” aren’t just for yuppies anymore. So revealed a New Haven architect Tuesday who’s at the forefront of bringing “sustainable design” to housing for poor and working families.
The architect is Regina Winters. She spoke to about 20 people Tuesday morning at the monthly breakfast series organized at the Graduate Club by the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund.
Winters, who used to oversee the city’s housing authority and neighborhood development office, today runs Fair Haven-based Zared Enterprises. At Zared, Winters has been injecting environmentally-friendly designs into affordable-housing projects in New Haven and Bridgeport — designs that cut down on pollution and reduce homeowners’ need for electricity.
People used to think of “green buildings” in terms of market-rate housing, for people who could afford the extra cost, she said at the Grad Club Tuesday. Federal incentives and grants have changed all that. Click on the play arrow on this screen to watch Winters talk about why that makes sense, given that people in poor neighborhoods often face the greatest environmental and health problems and have the most trouble meeting electricity bills.
A questioner noted that one project on which Zared worked — a new affordable-housing complex at Ferry and Poplar streets in Fair Haven built by Mutual Housing — had to resort to environmentally unfriendly vinyl siding on all but one building because of the high cost.
That’s true, Winters acknowledged. There’s still far to go in promoting and providing “greener” materials to the smaller local contractors who generally build affordable-housing projects, she said. The federal government and the Kresge Foundation have started to make money available for that, she said.
Then she went on to list all the green features that did make it into the project. The list includes linoleum flooring and bamboo flooring, Energy Star appliances, “low VOC” carpet and paint, and “daylighting” design. The builders also used “reclaimed lumber”: they salvaged old doors from the under-renovation Quinnipiac Terrace public-housing complex.
Winters spoke of another environmental trend that has found its way to the affordable-housing world: the reclaiming of “brownfields.” Those are polluted former industrial sites, common in cities, which communities try to clean up and find new uses for. Bigger, contaminated former factory land still doesn’t often work for housing, Winters said, because of a legal problem: “reopeners,” under which someone who gets sick can sue builders, and the companies which originally sold the builders the land, long after they cleaned it up. That makes companies hesitant to sell the land for housing development, and developers hesitant to build housing there.
But “brownfields” also include smaller, less contaminated sites that used to house, say, gas stations, Winters noted. And cities are finding that they can build homes there.