Harris County Leading Green Affordable Housing Effort

On a piece of foreclosed land just south of FM 1960 in North Harris County, a remarkable experiment of sorts is taking shape. The Harris County Housing authority has just opened a brand new apartment complex. Cypresswood Estates on Kuykendahl is breaking a lot of stereotypes when it comes to affordable housing.

“All of the appliances that you see are Energy Star rated. In addition to that, we have the programmable thermostats for the air-conditioning units that are also Energy Star rated.”   

Hybird plugin Jim MacKinnon has been in the construction business for 30 years, but he’s most proud of his latest project. At Cypresswood Estates, each apartment is full of the latest energy efficient building materials.

“All of the water fixtures that you see in the kitchens and the bathrooms are water efficient. They require very little water.”  

Cypresswood Estates is Harris County’s first attempt at building affordable housing that’s also completely green.

“This will be the Mayflower and then you’ll get the rest of the ships coming through. The next three that we build, they’ll be green also.”

Guy Rankin is the CEO and Executive Director of the Harris County Housing Authority. The latest project, which opened earlier this month with 88 units, is the first affordable housing development in the country that’s LEED Platinum Certified. The complex has hundreds of energy efficient features, from solar panels on five buildings and rain water harvesting to better insulation.

“R-19 on the walls and R-45 on the ceilings. You can go into some of these apartment units and you don’t have to turn on the air conditioner. We’ve had 25 days of 100 degree weather or more, and guess what? Some people don’t turn on their air conditioner. That’s got to be unique. You can turn on the ceiling fan and be cool.”

That comes in handy for new resident Mary Lu Robinson, who moved in a few weeks ago. She’s expecting lower utility bills.

“I’m on a fixed income and every cent, everything I can save, helps. But here, you can see the difference. So far, I haven’t gotten my bills, but it’s wonderful.”

Cypresswood Estates is for adults 55 years and older who meet certain income requirements. Most of the units lease for about half of market price.

Green Housing Guy Rankin says this is just the start.

“I think everybody will do this in the future. I think it makes sense, especially with the limited resources out there. Government has limited resources, so most people are looking for smarter government. Not a bigger government, not a smaller government, but a smarter government and this is definitely the smart way to go.”

Rankin says the Housing Authority’s goal is to create an entire development that’s Net Zero, which means it would be totally energy efficient, off the power grid with no electric bills.