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A legacy of Katrina: Green homes

Apr 8, 2010 - EnergyCentral.com

In this city on the mend, hundreds of state-of-the-art, energy-efficient homes are being built in lower-income neighborhoods, a trend that's outpacing most of the rest of the USA.

More than 500 green homes are being built with features such as solar panels and rain-catching cisterns in neighborhoods that received the brunt of the damage from the 2005 floods following Hurricane Katrina. Hundreds of other homes are being given green upgrades.

"New Orleans is certainly a leader in that regard," says Suzanne Watson of the Washington-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "The scale ... is remarkable."

Green building has traditionally been left to higher-end homes, whose owners can afford the costlier features, says Forest Bradley-Wright of the New Orleans-based Alliance for Affordable Energy. But as New Orleans began to rebuild, non-profits stepped in with innovative techniques to build eco-friendly homes in lower-income neighborhoods such as the Lower 9th Ward and Pontchartrain Park, he says.

"The destruction caused by Katrina necessitated almost everyone to rethink how to rebuild their home," Bradley-Wright says.

Other U.S. cities are building energy-efficient, affordable housing. The Boston Housing Authority, for example, is getting $63 million in federal money for energy-efficiency improvements, the largest public-housing project of its kind in U.S. history. But it's rare for a city to develop so many sustainable and affordable single-family homes, Watson says.

"What's happening in New Orleans is incredibly impressive," says Dana Bourland of Enterprise Community Partners, a Maryland-based non-profit that supports affordable housing efforts.

New Orleans projects include:

*Five green homes and an 18-unit apartment complex in the Lower 9th Ward developed by California-based Global Green USA.

*More than 150 energy-efficient homes planned for the Pontchartrain Park area, an effort led by actor Wendell Pierce, a New Orleans native best known for his role in the HBO series The Wire.

*150 eco-friendly homes planned for the Lower 9th Ward by Make It Right, the initiative started by actor Brad Pitt. So far, 34 of the homes have been built and range in price from $120,000 to $160,000. Energy bills are 75% lower than comparable homes, says construction director Jon Sader.

Resident Neal Dupar, 48, says his new Make It Right home has slashed his energy and water costs by $300 a month. "It's helped a great deal," he says. (c) Copyright 2010 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.