‘Moving Forward’ deploys technology to break cycle of poverty in Indiana | Crain's

‘Moving Forward’ deploys technology to break cycle of poverty in Indiana

Peter Yost, left, of Vermont-based BuildingGreen, and Steve Brooks, of Colorado-based OZ Architecture, review concepts for affordable housing at a meeting of Moving Forward in Indianapolis. | Photo courtesy of Energy Systems Network

A consortium of unlikely partners is adapting technology to provide affordable housing and transportation — with the goal of eliminating the cycle of poverty.

The ambitious Moving Forward project will begin to take shape this spring in the form of apartment developments in Bloomington and Fort Wayne. And two additional partners have joined the effort to lead development of apartments to be built next year in Indianapolis and in the Lafayette area.

“We’ll have four of the most, or one of the most, affordable, sustainable transportation and housing developments in the country,” said Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of Energy Systems Network. ESN is perhaps best known for leading the build-out of electric car charging stations in Indiana.

ESN features a team of experts from the state’s largest industrial and energy companies, including Cummins Inc., Allison Transmission and investor-owned electric utilities. The network also partners with international tech companies and national laboratories.

BWI LLC, an Indianapolis firm planning the apartments in Fort Wayne, and Pedcor Cos., a Carmel developer working the Bloomington project, will both integrate affordable transportation options, which could include a car-sharing service or nearby transit connections.

Solar power

The centerpiece of these apartments, Mitchell said, will be solar arrays that offer net-zero energy, or energy roughly equivalent to the amount consumed in a given year.

Low-cost energy is a pillar in Moving Forward’s mission, which aims to ensure families spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing and 15 percent on transportation.

While many lower-income families can afford housing, they often struggle with associated expenses like utility costs, fuel and maintenance, according to the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, a partner in the Moving Forward initiative.

Extensive use of solar generation is often prohibitive for developers because payback sometimes doesn’t come for a decade or longer.

But developers BWI and Pedcor will qualify for up to $750,000 in rental housing tax credits through IHCDA. Under the terms of such credits, a developer must continue to use the property for the same purpose for at least 15 years. That’s long enough to see payback on solar, Mitchell explained.

“In this instance, developers can commit to long-term development” of solar, Mitchell said. “That really struck us as we got into this.”

BWI’s 44-unit development planned for Fort Wayne, to be known as Posterity Scholar House, will also be brimming with energy savings features, said BWI CEO Gary Hobbs. Tenants will be able to monitor their energy use on a daily basis by using smartphones and compare usage with other tenants, possibly allowing them to qualify for rewards.

“What makes the project somewhat unique is the systems-level, total-cost-of-ownership approach that we are taking,” Hobbs said.

Another technological feature, to be incorporated at Pedcor’s 36-unit Bloomington project, will be a water recycling system to reduce water bills for residents.

Such technology, more common in industrial settings, will take waste water from sinks and showers and recycle it.

The transportation components for the Bloomington and Fort Wayne projects are still being developed, as they’re somewhat location-dependent. They could range from placing the apartments near active bus lines or within walking distance of town centers. Or they could feature car-sharing services such as the Blue Indy program in Indianapolis.  Such options spare residents of the cost of vehicle ownership.

Broader purpose

Moving Forward partners say it’s easy to get bogged down in the particular systems and miss the bigger picture: using these apartments as a tool to help residents better their lives and income level to the point they can move on. It’s about quality of life issues that become empowering to the tenant.

“It’s to be able to provide a path toward self-sufficiency, not that this would be an end-all,” said Brad Meadows, spokesman for IHCDA.

Lafayette-based Area IV Agency on Aging and Community Action, which in August was tapped to lead the third apartment project, envisions features such as child care, and on-site adult education programs to help residents enter more lucrative careers.

Space also could be provided for children to get an early start on science, technology, engineering and math education. A teaching kitchen could train residents to cook with raw ingredients to save money and improve nutrition.

Elva James, executive director of Area IV, also envisions a community garden and hydroponic growing methods to produce food, possibly to supply an on-site restaurant, for example. That could give rise to entrepreneurs.

To break the cycle of poverty, James said, “It needs to extend through to the next generation, to the children.”

The fourth development, slated for the east side of Indianapolis, also will have a heavy focus on breaking the generational cycle of poverty, said Melissa Roberts, spokeswoman for ESN.

That project is being headed by Community Action of Greater Indianapolis and, as with the Lafayette area apartments, likely will see groundbreaking in early 2018.

Make it replicable

IHCDA and ESN stress that a key outcome is to create a replicable design process for other communities to follow.

“We are focusing a lot of effort on data-driven decision-making for energy efficiency,” said Christin Kappel, of Noblesville-based Simply Sustainable LLC.

“We look at cost at install and long-term ROI to make the best decisions so that this paradigm shift in thinking is repeatable for other developers, later,” Kappel said.

The partners in Moving Forward have already honed the process for planning, in the form of intensive workshops to establish a solid plan from the get-go. They assembled experts from several fields, along with developers and community agencies, in a two-day meeting at the Nature Conservancy, downtown. They included experts from universities including Purdue and Stanford, an architectural firm from Colorado and leaders from Duke Energy, Cummins and Vectren.

Workshops are “really kind of the secret sauce about how we’ve been able to achieve so much. You have to bring the best and brightest minds together,” Mitchell said.

It was a “happenstance” conversation Mitchell had a few years ago with IHCDA Executive Director Jacob Sipe that set the stage for Moving Forward.

ESN’s gig has mainly been in coordinating development of energy-related projects involving advanced batteries, hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations.

But Sipe inquired with Mitchell about the possibilities of using some of those technologies for efficient and sustainable housing and transportation. The concept of using it to break the generational cycle of poverty evolved from there with input from experts such as Area IV’s James.

“There’s not going to be really anything else like this,” James said. “This is groundbreaking.”

January 9, 2017 - 3:01pm