Athens Can Make It Right

A movie star and some Athens groups are proving that sustainable housing isn’t just for the wealthy — that affordable housing can be green, too.  The actor is Brad Pitt and the two groups are the Athens Housing Authority and a home building company, Bork Architectural Design.

Pitt created a foundation called Make It Right to diminish the idea that “green” housing is out of reach for most Americans. Angelina Jolie, Ellen Degeneres and Mike Holmes are also involved in Pitt’s project.


According to a Huffington Post article, Make It Right is funded by Pitt and film producer Steve Bing’s $10 million donation, as well as foundations such as the Cherokee Gives Back Foundation and architectural firms William McDonough + Partners, John C. Williams Architects and Graft.

The average cost of one of these homes at closing is $75,000. The cost is so low because of grants and outside mortgage financing. Other financial structures are in place within the foundation to ensure that the future residents have affordable mortgages and offers loans with no payments or interest after a certain amount of time.

Make It Right has provided both the resources and the funding for projects in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, in Newark for veterans, in the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana for Native Americans, and in Kansas City for working families. The units that the Make It Right teams designed and constructed in these cities are LEED Platinum certified, which is the top tier of residential certifications from the U.S. Green Building Council. The units built in Kansas City were repurposed from an abandoned historic building to provide 50 affordable housing units for working families, a model that has been replicated in Savannah, Ga.

Sustainable Fellwood is a multi-use development in Savannah of 220 housing units that also boasts a variety of LEED and Earthcraft certified properties. The project consists of three phases of multi-family and senior living units, with additional single family homes for private ownership.  It is publicly and privately funded and was created through partnerships established by the Housing Authority of Savannah.



The units qualify as “sustainable” because of Fellwood’s participation in the LEED Neighborhood Development pilot program. Authority officials say smart location, neighborhood design, and infrastructure that reduces water and energy use are some of the qualifiers for this credential. However, the neighborhood contains units that are LEED Gold certified and the senior housing complex is the first LEED Platinum certified building in the city.

According to PD&R Magazine, the sustainable features built into the units turned out to cost only 25% of the total project costs. More importantly, the return on these features and the opportunity for residents to save money is high.

Athens Housing Authority

Athens is trying its own version of producing affordable green housing. According to a 2013 report and the Athens Housing Authority (AHA), one third of people in Athens-Clarke county live in poverty and 1,134 of those are receiving housing from AHA. The Authority provides all of its units through the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Public Housing Program

The levels of housing that AHA classifies falls in one of three categories: public housing, subsidized housing, or market rate. These categories are dependent upon the family’s need. Regardless of the type of housing the residents are receiving, the AHA takes measures to lower bills through energy efficiency.

“Residents are trained annually about the use of heating and air to educate them about being cost conscious and their usage,” says Marilyn Appleby of AHA. Besides checking housing units for properly running appliances, the extent of the green focus at AHA is limited. This can be attributed to the limited funds the AHA has to renovate homes, as well as the number of homes they must provide. With new homes constantly being built, the care that goes into the sustainable design of a specific site is put on the back burner.

The AHA has partnered with Athens Land Trust (ALT) to maximize affordable housing options, as well.

“We continue to work with the Athens Land Trust on affordable housing issues in the community,” Appleby said. “For instance, they conduct required housing counseling classes for new home buyers and our new home applicants attend those classes.  Habitat for Humanity, the Land Trust and the AHA have different housing programs but we all communicate and work together to complement our programs for the benefit of the community and our customers.”

Homes built by the ALT are Earthcraft certified, meaning they use an average of 28% less energy than typical a new home. These homes therefore have reduced energy bills, but do not necessarily contribute as much energy as they use. The Earthcraft certification is a partnership between the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and Southface Energy Institute, as well as the government.

Sustainability in residential design is strategic, and one woman in Athens is spearheading the movement towards smart design and sustainability, especially when it comes to building homes from the ground, up.

Bork Architectural Design

Lori Bork Newcomer is the founder and CEO of Bork Architectural Design, Inc.  She is also the first in the state to bring an LEED Platinum certification to the residential scale in Georgia. The home boasts low-flow water fixtures, drought-tolerant landscaping, and an 1,100 gallon water cistern. Her design earned her the 2011 award for Outstanding New Construction in a Historical Neighborhood from the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, according to a press release on her firm’s website.

Newcomer’s skill and belief in green building and design also led her to collaborate with the ALT in 2010 to build a home with environmentally friendly features that cost less than $100 per square foot. The premium that comes with “green living” is slowly being diminished through her work.

However, despite being ranked number 33 in Popular Science magazine’s list of “Top 50 Greenest Cities”, Athens has some catching up to do. Compared to Savannah and Atlanta, a city that contains multiple LEED Platinum certified buildings according to USGBC statistics, Athens lacks in buildings that are verified by third parties at all.

People like Appleby and Newcomer believe that Athens will soon be on its way to meeting those same standards with smart designers and structures making home ownership more affordable.

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