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Affordable Housing Group Challenges TX Developers to Build More Sustainably

December 30, 2011

SAN JUAN, Texas – For 20 years, a small housing program has been helping migrant workers and other limited-income families escape the ramshackle colonias of south Texas, building about 50 affordable homes a year. With its self-help philosophy, Proyecto Azteca offers zero-interest mortgages to residents willing to invest hundreds of hours of "sweat equity" as they learn construction and home-ownership skills.

In January, the group begins breaking new ground with its latest project. The 32 homes in Edcouch, Texas, will adhere to the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program standards. It's a neighborhood that should be a model of sustainability for any developer, according to Proyecto Azteca Executive Director Ann Williams Cass.

"If a little nonprofit like Proyecto Azteca can build a sustainable home – silver LEED-certifiable – and still make it affordable, all building contractors should be able to follow suit."

Built with insulated concrete forms, the homes will include solar water heaters, rainwater-harvesting systems, Energy Star appliances, foam insulation - and they'll be designed to withstand the Valley's extreme weather.

Cass says residents will be required to contribute 550 work hours during the construction of their homes. They will also take classes in home budgeting, home repair, organic gardening and sustainable living.

"We all should be more concerned about how we're utilizing resources and what kind of a carbon footprint we leave."

She says funding comes primarily from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants, as well as private foundations.

In an effort to elevate families out of notoriously unhealthy conditions found in colonia neighborhoods, Cass says the new community will feature playgrounds, trails, streetlights, a park, and a community center.

"Sixty-one percent of the children who live in colonias are morbidly obese. Part of that problem is because they don't have sidewalks, they don't have garbage collection, they don't have a park or a place where they can go and exercise."

She expects the neighborhood to be complete in about 18 months, adding that Proyecto Azteca will incorporate similar features into its future projects.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX