Habitat for Humanity is oriented toward sustainable building
By Marilyn Bowden
As winner of a Sustainable South Florida Award from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami was applauded not only for its ecological practices but also for creating and maintaining affordable homes for low-income families.
The chamber also cited the nonprofit, known locally as Miami Habitat for a "low carbon footprint by building near schools, utilizing the existing infrastructure of the City of Miami and refurbishing its existing office building."
According to a report by Metrostudy, Miami Habitat closed on 79 new homes last year, making it the No. 4 homebuilder in Miami-Dade County.
"We implement a number of green practices," said Maureen Ruggiero, Miami Habitat's corporate relations manager. "Our orientation is towards sustainable building, not only with green-building practices but also with a community-development outlook."
For this nonprofit, going green is not about jumping on a bandwagon.
"This is not something new for us," Ms. Ruggiero said. "We started doing it in 1995."
Among the specific sustainable and energy-saving practices at Miami Habitat, she said, are installing Energy Star appliances, from light bulbs and fixtures to refrigerators and stoves, in all its homes; using native plants and Xeriscape landscaping that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental irrigation water; paint that's low in volatile organic compounds; low-flow shower heads and toilets; retention areas for spillage; large overhangs on roofs, and ceiling fans that create cross-ventilation in all rooms.
"Since August 2005," said Joseph McDaniels, communications manager, "we've built to Florida Green Building Coalition standards."
"The fact that our houses are small," Ms. Ruggiero said, "is a plus for energy savings. Not using sprinklers or garages also gives us points with the Florida Green Building Coalition."
"What's fantastic about these green practices," Mr. McDaniels said, "is that they also save money, reducing the cost to homeowners, especially as technology gets more advanced."
Habitat Miami homes built just 15 years ago, he said, have higher water bills than those the organization is building now; electric bills in the newer homes average 32% less.
"So we're improving as we go," Mr. McDaniels said. "A lot of people think of sustainable as just green-building practices and things that conserve electricity or maintain ecological environments. But the concept is expanding within the framework of community development. Across the nation, Habitat for Humanity is getting involved in neighborhood revitalization in areas that already have community ties and a history, helping to lift them out of poverty."
A local example is Habitat Miami's new initiative called Liberty City Shine.
Miami-Dade County, Mr. McDaniels said, has helped the effort by donating 140 infill lots there.
"We're building on existing infrastructure and helping to lift up a community that already exists," he said.
Additionally, the organization uses HUD funds to purchase foreclosed and abandoned homes in Liberty City and on its outskirts," he said, "helping to stem some of the bleeding in the foreclosure market there, renovating if necessary and putting those homes back on the market at affordable rates."
Finally, the program helps existing homeowners with restorations.
"If they can't keep up the exteriors, they can put $100 into our program and we will do a facelift," Mr. McDaniels said.
The program is funded by federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program II funds, he said — dollars that have to be matched by private donations. "So we're always looking for partners that want to get on board."
Not all donations are monetary. One newly formed tie is with an organization called Urban Greenworks.
"I'm really excited about it," Mr. McDaniels said. "It's all about planting edible gardens throughout the urban community so people have a greater ability to provide for themselves."