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Author: Wendy Placko
Title: Hillcrest Village
Category: Justice & equity
Description: Affordable Housing Affordable housing hasn't been solved by anyone – on local, state and national levels in the United States, it remains difficult for low-income families to afford living space. In the small rural Minnesota town of Northfield, a picturesque river town with two colleges, there is no exception to this rule. Hardworking families lack housing choices. Existing Transitional Housing No Longer Usable The Community Action Center of Northfield managed buildings with living spaces offered to families in crisis. The structures, which were built to serve as motel buildings years ago, assisted people in need of emergency and transitional housing, but were in a state of disrepair. After consulting with former and current tenants, it was decided that the structures would need to be torn down and rebuilt to better serve their needs. Reimagining Transitional Housing Community volunteers pulled together to reimagine their approach to transitional housing. Through conversations with community members and a host of volunteers, Hillcrest Village was born, a neighborhood property with 17 units to address a continuum of housing needs – emergency, transitional and affordable housing. During construction planning, the team wondered what it would take to build the homes as passive and/or net-zero structures, reducing long-term energy costs and addressing the need for climate action. They engaged Precipitate's Elizabeth Turner, AIA, to complete a study on the feasibility of this idea, modeling energy efficiency and estimating costs. Partnering with the University of Minnesota's Center for Sustainable Building Research, alongside community volunteers and local builders, they discovered that the idea was not only possible, but would cost much less than they anticipated. Social Justice Meets Environmental Justice Hillcrest Village is meeting the needs of the community now and in the future. For a 5% additional investment in building costs, the structures will reduce energy consumption by 65%, lowering the energy burden of tenants for years to come. The project is engaging three local builders on the construction, which is set for completion in early 2022. These builders will learn new techniques for highly insulated wall construction that they can offer to other local clients to help the rural town work towards carbon neutrality. And it's not just possible, it's affordable.