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Solar Project Partnership Powers Low and Moderate-Income Housing

Solar Project Partnership Powers Low and Moderate-Income Housing

The team at Solar Design Studio has been honored to work in partnership with the Westside Housing Organization through KCP&L Solar on the restoration of an historic property in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood. Too often, solar implementation is out of reach for those with low or moderate incomes, but partnerships like this one are bringing solar power to diverse communities that can benefit greatly as a result.

For this particular project, their largest yet, the dedicated staff at Westside Housing Organization set their sights on rehabilitating a dilapidated, abandoned building at 8th and Woodland. The historic property is being turned into a mixed-use commercial and residential space, with retail, restaurant, or office space on the first floor and 10 residential units above. The building was purchased for a small sum from the Land Bank and benefits from donations and investment from several partners in its transformation, including the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), the City of Kansas City, Missouri, and Neighborworks America.

Affordable Housing Matters

In a recent conversation, Warren Adams-Leavitt, the Manager of Strategic Energy Initiatives for Westside Housing, noted that Kansas City is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. As development in the Downtown and Crossroads areas has displaced low and moderate-income families, the city is still short 23,000 housing units. The resulting increases in rent prices have made it difficult for these tenants to find adequate, affordable housing. “It’s actually getting worse (for low and moderate-income tenants), Adams-Leavitt says, “because buildings that were affordable aren’t anymore, which puts pressure on housing prices and rents as a result.”

This $1.3M project will increase the stock of safe, affordable housing in the Northeast neighborhood, transform a dilapidated building into a community asset, and support city initiatives around renewable, sustainable energy development.

Solar Energy Makes a Major Impact

Because the building required major renovation, it became feasible to include multiple solar roof-top units into the project design. A grant from the ISC is funding the installation of 83 panels, which will generate enough power to supply 100% of the residential tenant’s energy needs. “We asked Solar Design Studio to design a way to plug solar panels through an inverter into 4 residential meters,” Adams-Leavitt says, because “we believe strongly that solar energy ought to be available for everyone in Kansas City and wanted to figure out a way to deliver it to our low-income tenants.”

The addition of solar panels to this particular project will have a big impact on the residents of the building, who will not have to add an electric bill to their list of monthly expenses. Adams-Leavitt notes that energy cost spikes in the summer and winter are especially hard on low and moderate-income tenants, who may not be able to respond as quickly to price fluctuations during high-demand months.

The Westside Housing Organization hopes to include solar energy in all future housing projects to remove this burden from tenants and to make sustainable, renewable energy available to a wider group of Kansas Citians.

Solar Design for Everyone

The Solar Design Studio team has embraced this exciting renovation and enjoyed working with the partners involved to show that solar energy can power low and moderate-income housing and make an impact on the lives of diverse communities. The project is not without its challenges. As Adams-Leavitt noted, “This is a messier process because of the age (110 years) of the building. The solar aspect has to work alongside the larger redevelopment project and respond quickly to decisions about electrical service and structural engineering, among others.”

As a result, the solar design and installation had to be flexible and able to evolve to support the project’s changing needs. Luckily, we love a challenge and look for opportunities to problem-solve with our clients to determine how best to incorporate solar technology into their construction or renovation plans. We strongly believe in the power of solar energy to create sustainable development and ease the burden of energy prices on tenants, homeowners, and commercial buildings alike.

We’re proud to work with the Westside Housing Organizations and other partners on the project at 8th and Woodland, and look forward to seeing how it positively impacts the local community and further sustainable development. This project proves the value of solar installation in low and moderate-income housing and will hopefully become a template for more projects and even wider impact in the future.

Contact the team at Solar Design Studio to discuss your solar projects needs!

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What Our Clients Are Saying

I have researched adding PV to my home for several years and have met with several PV providers in the KC area and they tend to fall into two broad categories, the new and low budget operators who got into this to ride the wave and are not that knowledgeable, and the commercial providers who have little interest in working with a homeowner and are geared to providing a much larger system where some economy of scale must come into play. Both my wife and I are architects and we wanted something different and it was challenging to find someone who was interested in doing something out of the ordinary. Neither or those types were interested in working with us as we were trying to create something a bit different. they each wanted to sell us their pre-configured solutions.

 

Fortunately we found Bob Solger. He has been a delight to work with and is incredibly knowledgeable and responsive. We wanted to create a solar carport that would provide cover and protection for our cars, but would also provide shade over part of our patio. In essence, the big idea was to create an outdoor pavilion, when, if we wanted to entertain we could move the cars out of the way and have a large covered area for an outdoor gathering. We had selected the Lumos brand of solar panels as they have a very clean look and are partially transparent so some light filters through the panels creating a mottled light pattern on the ground, similar to the shading from a tree. In addition, the system is set up to hide the majority of the connecting wires in the support beams so when you look up at the underside of the PV roof you see a very clean look. Bob recognized our goal and worked with us to ensure the project’s success. Bob identified a structural engineer to design an elegant support structure and found a fabricator to build it affordably. Finally he connected us with a contracting team to clear the space, provide the footings, retaining walls, and pad, who were every bit as careful with everything as you would hope. They were amazingly accommodating to every request and understood that there were a lot of competing challenges that needed to be resolved so we could fit this all in to a very tight location and make it look like it belongs.

 

The bottom line is that it all turned out better than we could have hoped and while it did cost more than the low ball bids received from some of the low budget operators, it was less than the commercially focused suppliers, and more importantly we got the design we wanted and a well-constructed PV carport that will give us great delight for years to come. The best part is of course the savings on our electric bill, which thus far has been averaging around $200/month. So not only do we have a new carport and entertainment patio that our neighbors have been stopping by and admiring (which given that we live in the older Brookside neighborhood and our PV carport is quite modern, we were much relieved) but, our electric bills have been in the under $10/month range.

 

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Bob and his knowledge and team for helping to create an amazing PV carport for us. I’m sure you would be delighted with whatever you engage him to help you with.

Dev & Sue Malik

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