New Habitat for Humanity Model in Wis. May Come to Minn.

Updated: 06/22/2014 10:29 PM
Created: 06/17/2014 5:09 PM
By: Brandi Powell

Habitat for Humanity is trying something new. St. Croix Valley's Habitat is in the process of building what they say is the largest community of environmentally friendly homes for low-income families.

The city of River Falls, Wisconsin, donated 2.5 acres of land for Habitat to build on. It's giving homeowners who may not have been able to afford going green the chance to do so.

This unique Habitat for Humanity community might soon come to Minnesota. "We'd like it to be a model for all Habitats," said Dave Engstrom, Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity St. Croix Valley.

So it’s out with the single habitat for humanity home and in with an entire environmentally-friendly neighborhood.

"I think we're the only Habitat of the 1,500 affiliates in the country, we're the only one doing anything like this," Engstrom said.

The neighborhood is called Eco Village. It has 18 homes. Each has highly insulated walls and windows, which make them much more energy efficient than the average home. They're complete with solar panels, roof water catchers and underground rain collectors.

Over the course of a year the homes in Eco Village will be net zero, which means they produce as much energy as they consume.

"This whole 'eco village' project is a living laboratory that really shows us I think the future of a sustainable home," said Jim Weglewski, Vice president of Corporate Quality, Sustainability and Facilities at Andersen Windows.

It's low to no energy bills for the people living here.

"It's pretty mind-blowing, because my energy bill is like this big," said Habitat for Humanity homeowner Sara Zugschwert.

And St. Croix Valley's model could soon be a reality in Minnesota.

Engstrom said Woodbury is showing interest, and said they working on talking with the Twin Cities about potential project partnerships. It's a sustainable, eco-friendly model that the homeowners live by.

Habitat's eco-village is paid for by the Andersen Foundations, Thrivent Financial, the Otto Bremer Foundation, as well as from many churches and individuals.

Habitat for Humanity St. Croix Valley also gets a commitment from each homeowner to make payments for 30 years. The homeowners' mortgages are based on 30 percent of their income.

The houses in Eco Village will generate about $3,000 each, in property taxes, annually. Habitat paid about $400,000 to put in a road and other infrastructure. It is money the city lent them at no interest.

And beginning sometime in 2015, a community center for the entire River Falls area will be built, right next to those homes. It would be used as a community education center for programs on sustainable living, among other things.

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