Solutions: Building sustainable and affordable housing

Credit: Abigail Brone/Connecticut Public Radio

Credit: Abigail Brone/Connecticut Public Radio

Progress is underway in New Haven on the second affordable housing project in the nation to employ wood in place of steel and concrete.

The 69-unit, two-building complex in New Haven uses mass timber, a wood product and technology that reduces the amount of CO2 emissions used during construction.

“We all know we’re in a climate crisis and we have to think of many, many different ways to confront the climate crisis. One of the ways is capturing carbon from the air,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said. “Trees take in that carbon and they store it within the wood. If you burn the tree, all the carbon goes away. But, if you store that wood in a long-term structure like this you’re taking carbon out of the environment.”

City leaders say the production of construction materials account for 10% of the global energy-related carbon pollution contributing to climate change.

Unlike steel and concrete, which are commonly used and non-renewable building materials, mass timber employs wood, a renewable resource, and stores carbon in the building structure.

Of the project’s 69 apartments, 55 will be for low-income residents earning 60% or below the average median income. An additional 20 units will be reserved for people experiencing homelessness.

“Oftentimes we toss around that word, affordable, but the reality is not everyone can access the type of technical definition of affordable, but this project has a high percentage of units. Eighty percent of units are affordable,” Elicker said.

The project is a partnership between the city, Beulah Land Development Corporation, and Spiritos Properties, a New York-based construction company known for its work in mass timber.

The Dixwell Avenue project, going up in a long-vacant lot, is the first mass timber affordable housing project on the East Coast and the first funded using federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). Sacramento is home to the only other affordable housing apartment building in the country that was constructed using the mass timber method.

Using the mass-timber style costs slightly more than typical construction, but has more benefits in the long run, project architect Alan Organschi, of Gray Organschi Architecture, said.

“Our construction impacts are huge and we have to fix that. The problem is that we’ve sunk huge amounts of money and capital into building our industries that use steel and concrete,” Organschi said. “We developed a huge series of behaviors and patterns and conventions and regulations around the use of these materials and buildings.”

Groundbreaking on the project took place in August 2022, with plans for the building to be move-in ready in early 2024, according to Beulah Land Development CEO Darrell Brooks.