(Photo: Illustration by Karl Thibodeaux, an artistic rendering of the idea of the 'green home')     

By Julie Thibodeaux     

Building green is often seen as a luxury reserved for the wealthy homeowner. However, a Fort Worth-based nonprofit is proving that green housing is within reach of even those needing public assistance.

The Tarrant County Housing Partnership has been helping people through all stages of homeownership since 1991. Working with Tarrant County, the city of Arlington, the city of Fort Worth and others, the nonprofit helps individuals and families of low to moderate income purchase homes, obtain downpayment and closing cost assistance and resolve housing crises. Over two decades, it's produced more than 3,600 affordable housing units.

Now TCHP is going green by creating the first eco-friendly public housing developments in Tarrant County.

According to Donna VanNess, president of TCHP, last year the nonprofit was planning two housing projects in Fort Worth when they sought help from Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit that provides technical and financial support for affordable housing developments. Enterprise showed them a new option it was offering -- a green housing grant. TCHP applied and was awarded $95,000 with the stipulation that they build affordable housing with green criteria.

VanNess said the staff and board of TCHP were excited about the prospect of adding green features to their plans and were surprised to learn that it didn’t add much to the cost. 

“It’s only a 2 to 3 percent increase in cost,” said VanNess. 

VanNess said there’s a perception among builders and homebuyers that green building is only for high-end clients. However, she said simple construction practices such as creating a tightly sealed structure with good insulation and attention to air quality are the basics of green building. 

“You don’t have to do the glamourous green building,” she said.  “There’s no reason not to build this way.” 

As a result, TCHP has two different green projects underway. One is constructing 20 single-family homes in the Hillside neighborhood, southeast of downtown Fort Worth, a historic neighborhood currently being revitalized. In addition, TCHP is renovating a multi-family facility in east Fort Worth, formerly the Beaty Street Apartments.

The projects are estimated to cost $3 million to build an initial 14 homes and upgrade the multi-family units.

The new homes will be built bungalow-style to fit into the 1920s-era neighborhood. The homes will be highly energy efficient and incorporate green features such as eco-friendly flooring, low VOC paint and water-conserving plumbing fixtures. The properties will be landscaped with drought-tolerant plants.  

TCHP hopes to break ground on the first four single-family homes by summer.

Meanwhile, renovation has already begun on the 1968 70-unit apartment complex. Asbestos has been removed. Eventually, the complex will be retrofitted with energy conserving features, such as insulated panel roofing, along with eco-friendly building materials.   

TCHP’s goal is obtain certification of its green projects from Enterprise, which offers a certification similar to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. TCHP is also partnering with EARTH-NT, a clean energy and resource technology hub, and the University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Urban Affairs, to collect data on the buildings’ energy efficiency performance.

Once homes are completed, TCHP plans to market them to residents who earn 80 percent at or below the area median income.

VanNess said their clients range from pharmaceutical technicians to grad students to teachers just starting out. She’s hoping the green housing features will appeal to this demographic. 

“We’ve always been proud of our projects but this adds another appealing element,” said VanNess.  

Julie Thibodeaux is a Fort Worth-based writer covering environmental issues, green topics and sustainable living. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Contact her at julie@jthibodeaux.com.