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Zero Net Energy Affordable Housing: Home for Agricultural Workers in Woodland, California

Photograph of the front façades of a two-story and a three-story apartment building with photovoltaic panels on the roofs. Panels are also installed over some of the parking spaces near the buildings.
Certified by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, Mutual Housing at Spring Lake offers affordable rents and utility costs for farmworkers in Woodland, California. Photo Credit: Domin Photography

The city of Woodland, California 2013 general plan called for an increase in affordable housing for agricultural workers, as well as energy efficiency improvements in residential developments. The 62-unit Mutual Housing at Spring Lake (MHSL) development, which opened in March 2015, addresses both of these goals. The development produces as much energy as it consumes each year, which reduces utility costs and makes housing more affordable for local farmworkers and their families. This achievement has helped MHSL receive the U.S. Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home certification, the first affordable multifamily rental development to do so according to the Department.

Listening to Local Voices

Before starting MHSL’s design and construction, developer Mutual Housing California, an organization guided by principles of sustainable housing and resident engagement, surveyed its agricultural workers. The respondents indicated that rent and utility costs were their primary housing concerns, and the developer made addressing these concerns a priority in planning MHSL. Mutual Housing California also met with Woodland organizations to identify available support services before securing the site.

Affordable and Efficient Energy

MHSL’s energy-efficient features and design strategies were central to ensuring affordability. The project’s 209-kilowatt photovoltaic power system significantly lowers the demand for energy, helping to achieve zero net energy and reduced energy costs. Other energy-efficient features include light emitting diode (LED) and compact fluorescent lighting, ENERGY STAR®-rated exhaust fans and appliances, efficient ductwork and insulation, and light-colored roofing, as well as inverter-driven air-to-water heat pumps. MHSL also conserves water with thermostatic showerhead valves, low-flow fixtures, and drought resistant landscaping.

To control the projected costs associated with zero net energy development, Mutual Housing California and its partners agreed on a set of solutions that included energy-use monitors in each apartment, so that residents could better understand and adjust their energy use. According to Vanessa Guerra, project manager with Mutual Housing California, the monitors were a “tenant-education tool [that] reduced projected energy demand,” allowing a smaller photovoltaic system that decreased development costs. Residents can use the monitors to reduce their energy consumption so that the only charge on their monthly electric bill is a $5 administrative fee.

In addition to keeping utility costs low, the development’s zero net energy status helped secure a $5.5 million Section 514 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development arm. Also helping to cover MHSL’s $22 million development cost were $13.2 million in low-income housing tax credits and $181,000 in business energy investment tax credits. In addition, the development received a $1.2 million loan from Citibank, a $1 million Joe Serna, Jr. Farmworker Housing Grant, and a $910,000 loan from the city of Woodland.

Photograph of the front façade of a one-story nonresidential building with green space in the foreground and a residential building in the background.
The community building at Mutual Housing at Spring Lake contains offices and shared space for programs that engage and empower residents. Photo Credit: Domin Photography

Building Community

MHSL’s 5 residential buildings contain 12 one-bedroom, 20 two-bedroom, 22 three-bedroom, and 8 four-bedroom units, with 1 unit reserved for the property manager. The 61 units are rented to farmworker households, who earn up to 60 percent of the area median income, and are supported by project-based vouchers from USDA Rural Development. The development also includes a community building with a multi-purpose room, a computer lab, and staff offices. In addition, the site features central open spaces, a children’s play area, a basketball hoop, and a community garden, as well as car and bicycle parking.

Guerra says, “The onsite common space and facilities play a critical role in allowing residents to build a sense of community and unity between families” and “provide a safe environment for individuals to develop their social and leadership skills.” An MHSL staff member works closely with residents to plan programs and activities, including courses in financial education and home-buyer preparation, college planning workshops, English as a second language courses, legal workshops, leadership development training and mentoring, computer literacy courses, and community service events.

Community Progress

After the site opened, MHSL established a resident council that meets regularly to develop programs and plan events. The council and its programs further Mutual Housing California’s resident engagement, empowerment, and self-governance goals. According to Guerra, this approach “allows our residents to take a key role in the operation and life of their community.” In addition, MHSL staff has maintained relationships with local organizations such as the Yolo County Health Department and the Travis Credit Union to provide program support.

MHSL reflects Mutual Housing California’s focus on environmental sustainability, becoming a national model for energy affordability and efficiency., Building on its success, MHSL is pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes Platinum certification. The site has also been recognized by the ENERGY STAR Certified Homes version 3.0 program, Build it Green’s GreenPoint Rated program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Indoor airPLUS program, and Enterprise Green Communities.

Source:

Interview with Vanessa Guerra, project manager, Mutual Housing of California, 30 November 2015; California Housing Partnership Corporation. 2015. “Mutual Housing California Achieves Zero Net Energy in Woodland,” Green Rental Home Energy Efficiency Network, 6 May. Accessed 9 November 2015; U.S. Department of Energy. 2015. “ Case Study: Mutual Housing at Spring Lake.” Accessed 9 November 2015.

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Source:

Mutual Housing California. 2015. “Mutual Housing at Spring Lake.” Accessed 9 November 2015; Interview with Vanessa Guerra, project manager, Mutual Housing of California, 30 November 2015.

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Source:

U.S. Department of Energy. 2015. “ Case Study: Mutual Housing at Spring Lake.” Accessed 9 November 2015; California Housing Partnership Corporation. 2015. “Mutual Housing California Achieves Zero Net Energy in Woodland,” Green Rental Home Energy Efficiency Network, 6 May. Accessed 9 November 2015.

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Source:

Interview with Vanessa Guerra, 30 November 2015; California Housing Partnership Corporation. 2015. “Mutual Housing California Achieves Zero Net Energy in Woodland,” Green Rental Home Energy Efficiency Network (6 May). Accessed 9 November 2015.

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Source:

California Housing Partnership Corporation. 2015. “Mutual Housing California Achieves Zero Net Energy in Woodland,” Green Rental Home Energy Efficiency Network, 6 May. Accessed 9 November 2015.

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Source:

California Housing Partnership Corporation. 2015. “Mutual Housing California Achieves Zero Net Energy in Woodland,” Green Rental Home Energy Efficiency Network, 6 May. Accessed 9 November 2015; Mutual Housing California. 2015. “Mutual Housing at Spring Lake.” Accessed 9 November 2015; Interview with Vanessa Guerra, 30 November 2015.

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Source:

Interview with Vanessa Guerra, 30 November 2015; Mutual Housing California. 2015. “Mutual Housing at Spring Lake.” Accessed 9 November 2015.

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Source:

Interview with Vanessa Guerra, 30 November 2015.

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Source:

U.S. Department of Energy. 2015. “Mutual Housing California.” Accessed 16 November 2015.

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