I think we may have mentioned before that we live near a neighborhood of solar homes that was developed by the City of Bloomington Housing and Neighborhood Department (HAND). It’s called Evergreen Village and it’s a cute little development of energy efficient homes planted with rain gardens and equipped with photovoltaic solar panels (which I believe were donated by Duke Energy). We considered buying one when we were looking for a house but decided they were too expensive. It’s a little odd; they’re designed to be affordable housing and yet they’re priced around $120,000-$150,000. We’ve been wondering how that’s supposed to work.
Well, as I was walking the dog today (they have a nice walking trail) I saw a “for sale” sign and decided to call the realtor. She was very nice and explained the whole program to me. It’s actually pretty cool. Fist of all, if you want to buy one of the houses, you have to meet their income guidelines, which means you can’t make more than a certain amount of money. For a couple, your combined income can’t be more than $39,100 which means Will and I would definitely qualify. You have to take a homebuyer class through the HAND department that basically talks about how mortgages work, expectations for upkeep of your house when you live in the city, and maybe some basic home maintenance stuff. You also have to take a special class about how to care for your solar panels, how to maximize the energy efficiency of the homes, and how to care for your native landscaping rain garden.
Then you go to the lender of your choice and apply for a loan. Here’s where it gets interesting. Lets say the house you’re looking at is $130,000 but the bank says they will only lend you $100,000. The city has a special loan/grant fund to help make up the difference so if you qualify (I’m not sure exactly what the guidelines are here), they will give you the extra $30,000 to buy the house. If you keep the house for a certain amount of time, lets say ten years, the loan from the city is forgiven. But if you sell it after a couple of years, you have to pay back the loan, I think with interest.
When we first started considering these houses, I thought it was a little surprising that all the appliances are electric (water heater, furnace, oven). I’ve always heard terrible things about how inefficient electric furnaces and water heaters can be. However, I’ve read a lot of studies about how people who want to switch to solar power end up dramatically increasing the efficiency of their homes before they put on any panels because once you start trying to figure out how to make it work with solar, you realize it’s all about insulation and passive solar heating. So even though it’s unlikely that the homes can really heat themselves year-round using PV solar panels, I’m sure they’re way better than your average home, even if it uses a gas furnace.
The ultimate goal for Evergreen Village is to help low-income families invest in really cool efficient homes for the long term and I hope the program will be really successful. It looks like only about half the houses are currently inhabited but they were constructing the last phase (about a third) all through 2008 so it sounds like the city is just getting started selling the latest group of houses. It’s also a crappy time of year to move so we’re figuring maybe in the spring we’ll have some new neighbors.
In the meantime, we’ll keep admiring the solar panels as we walk by.