A Success Story: Healthy Homes, Neighborhood Revitalization, and L.A. County’s First Graywater Irrigation System
Is it possible to build multi-family housing without air conditioning in Southern California where the weather averages high 70s F in the daytime for most of the year? With smart building design, it is definitely possible to do so. During their building walk-throughs in the middle of the October heat wave of 2009, the developer’s project manager Lara Regus and her teammates substantiated their conscientious design and engineering efforts in creating a green and sustainable project: the unit interiors were noticeably more comfortable and cooler than the outdoors which was registering in the high 90s. This was in large part due to the fact that the buildings had excellent insulation, quality windows, and thermal massing.
Located in East Rancho Dominguez, California, Casa Dominguez is a $31 million multi-faceted development that serves as a national model for combining affordable housing for families, permanent housing for transition-aged youth leaving the foster-care system, a child day-care facility, and a healthcare clinic all on one site. The buildings’ respectful design is a breath of fresh air for the existing community which is in a redevelopment area. Targeting a LEED for Homes Platinum level, Casa Dominguez was developed by Abode Communities, a Los Angeles-based non-profit affordable housing developer formerly known as the Los Angeles Community Design Center which was established in 1968.
A well respected leader in its industry, Abode Communities has taken a holistic approach to creating and managing affordable housing. Having an in-house team of experts focusing on development, architectural design, property management, and resident services, they have the ability to develop any given project with cohesiveness and multi-perspectives, an organizational approach that is atypical of affordable housing developers as well as developers in general.
They also focus on collecting feedback and lessons learned from their team members and tenants from various properties. Armed with this valuable knowledge, the developer is not only able to actively apply them to improve its development strategies for future projects, but also have the advantage of creating truly sustainable developments. About 6 years ago, Abode Communities started implementing sustainable design and business principles in its practice, way before the LEED for Homes rating system was established and ahead of the pack in the development world.
Based on years of experience, Abode Communities understands that in order to succeed in developing and managing any affordable housing project, it is essential to provide the residents a healthy home, a positive community base, and the tools to help them succeed in a creating a healthy, sustainable lifestyle for themselves. Exemplifying Abode Communities’ mission, Casa Dominguez is a sustainable community which provides 70 families and transition-aged youth healthy, energy efficient homes with good indoor air quality and beautiful courtyard gardens.
It also provides supportive services to its residents as well as the general public: an on-site Family Development Center which includes a childcare center and parent resource center that will be operated by The Children’s Collective and a health clinic that will be operated by St. John’s Well Child & Family Center. Casa Dominguez truly adds value to an existing neighborhood sorely needing revitalization and characterized by low density housing, retail, commercial, and light industrial buildings.
The following lists highlight the green features of Casa Dominguez.
Green Energy and Conservation Features:
- 84.87 kW (DC) Solar PV system that provides 100% of the common area electricity
- Corridors completely open to outside air and thus naturally ventilated
- Individual unit electrical and gas meters to encourage tenant usage accountability
- Ground source heat pump
- Apartments have hydronic heating
- Ceiling fans in every room instead of air conditioning
- Economizer for fresh air intake
- Kitchen range hoods and bathroom fans vent to the outside
- Energy Star appliances and light fixtures
- High efficiency low-e windows that allow plenty of natural light into apartment units
Green Material Features:
- Concrete mat slab foundation consists of 30% of fly ash which replaces Portland cement
- Playground surfacing made of recycled tires
- Low-VOC paints and floor coverings
- Carpet with recycled content
- Formaldehyde-free kitchen and bathroom cabinets
Water Conservation Features:
- Graywater irrigation system (laundry wastewater recycled to irrigate landscape)
- Drought tolerant landscape
- Low-flow faucets and toilets
Other Green Features:
- Pre-fabricated framing system that reduced construction waste and timeframe
- Otis Gen2L elevator which uses 50% less energy than conventional elevators
- Blown-in insulation by Green Fiber
Per Abode Communities’ President Ms. Robin Hughes, “affordable housing development as a whole is about social justice and equity, and about providing healthy and safe housing for people. ” With Casa Dominguez, Abode Communities succeeds in its contribution to solving those challenges. Ms. Hughes attributes the project’s success not only to her team, but also to having a good public partner, the Los Angeles County Community Development Commission that has supported them through the 5 year development process and recognized the necessity of building sustainable developments.
When asked about what her proudest moment was during the development, Ms. Hughes recalled the moments when she watched the families receive their keys and welcome gift to a new, healthy apartment; when she watched the kids moving out of foster-care and into a community with support services; and realizing that the families do want to embrace the green features in the property as well as help others implement green living practices.
If non-profit affordable housing developers such as Abode Communities can make such positive impacts on people’s lives and the environment, then I think the rest of us should follow suite in the race to provide sustainable communities for everyone.