Housing one family at a time has been the mantra of Habitat for Humanity International in its efforts to construct affordable singlefamily housing since its start in 1976.
But some affiliates of the Americus, Ga.-based nonprofit have seen the wisdom of broadening that philosophy to include multifamily housing.
About five and a half years ago, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando (Fla.) Area purchased a 3.9-acre site for a neighborhood of townhouse-style condos when the third phase of an apartment complex stalled. The location of the eventual 58-unit, 10-building Stag Horn Villas, on a bus line and two blocks from a public high school, seemed ideal. Already, 46 of the three-bedroom, two-bath condos have been finished and are occupied.
But the real success of the development lies in its focus on conservation and green building practices.
“We wanted to be good stewards of the environment and encourage pride of ownership,” says Terry Eckert, the affiliate's director of construction. Judging by the local response, he and his team have succeeded. “We get a lot of hugs in this business,” he says.
Because water resources are so precious in Florida, the Greater Orlando Area Habitat leaders decided to participate in the state's certified Water Star conservation program, which encourages the use of Bahia, a droughttolerant grass species that can survive without irrigation in Florida, though at Stag Horn there's an efficient microirrigation system for periods of drought. All plants are Florida-friendly and well adapted to the region.
“In Florida, about 50 percent of residential water use is on the landscape, and about half is wasted with overwatering and poorly designed irrigation systems,” says Deirdre Irwin, a Florida Water Star coordinator with St. Johns River Water Management District, which oversees the area's water use.
Besides conserving water, the team wanted to meet Florida Green Building Coalition standards with materials such as R-30 insulation; low-VOC paint and adhesives; white roof shingles; and low-E, double-pane windows.
Appearance was important too, so the condos were designed in visually interesting staggered groupings rather than straight rows. Every homeowner or set of dual owners must contribute 300 to 500 hours of “sweat equity” volunteering at Habitat projects before moving in, as well as attend classes to prepare for maintaining and affording their homes. “This helps the homeowners form an important bond with neighbors that they continue once they move in,” says Greater Orlando Area Habitat president Dee Danmeyer.
The compact kitchens reflect an attractive mix of form and function, with wood cabinets, colorful laminate countertops, pull-out drawers in base cabinets, and heavy, wear-resistant vinyl floors that were installed using low-VOC glue. Water is conserved via WaterSense faucets, toilets, and showers and Energy Star washers and dishwashers. Such products enable Stag Horn to use 20 percent to 30 percent less water than similar developments, says Irwin.
The units average 1,160 square feet, and the $8 million development had a price per unit of $110,000, with purchase assistance from the city of Orlando.