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Published on July 8th, 2009 | by Tina Casey


San Francisco Housing Authority Goes Solar

July 8th, 2009 by  

San Francisco Housing Authority to Install Solar PanelsIt’s a match made in green heaven: the San Francisco Housing Authority has joined with the venerable affordable housing developer McCormack Baron Salazar to install more than 365 kw of solar panels on public housing properties.  The project is supported by the San Francisco solar initiative GoSolarSF, the largest solar panel rebate program of any city in the U.S, and it’s shaping up to be a bellwether for solar-powered housing across the country, affordable or not.


Solar Panels, The San Francisco Housing Authority and McCormack Baron Salazar

The new solar panels will be installed at the San Francisco Housing Authority properties of Hayes Valley North and South, and Plaza East.  The Housing Authority is 17th-largest among 3200 local housing authorities in the U.S.  McCormack Baron Salazar has been tackling urban blight and building affordable housing for more than 30 years, gradually expanding from single sites to long term partnerships on comprehensive urban master plans.  Put the two together and the solar panel project is backed by a record of affordable housing experience that’s hard to match.

The Solar Future of Affordable Housing

There are two side to affordable housing: affordability to those who live in it, and to those whose taxes pay for it.  Assuming the investment in solar panels yields a cost-effective savings over conventional energy, everybody wins.  Household utility costs are lower, along with taxpayer utility subsidies.  That’s not even counting the potential for reducing air pollution and related health costs from conventional power plants, which affect entire populations regardless of income.

Solar Panels and Affordable Housing Design

As planners and architects were quick to discover, solar panels and other green building elements pose a design challenge.  That goes double for affordable housing, with little or no room in the budget for frills.  From the examples set in cities like Chicago, Portland,  and Tacoma, the solutions can be quite elegant.  That’s another win for everyone.  Low income households get an attractive living space, and the entire city gets a better overall image that encourages stability and investment.  A more sustainable approach to affordable housing design could also promote additional taxpayer savings, with buildings and neighborhoods designed to last indefinitely instead of being torn down as expensive failures within a generation.  Given the spectacle of  brand new housing being demolished without ever being occupied, sustainability is a lesson well learned by the private sector, too.

Image: James Cridland on flickr.com.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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