Austin Habitat for Humanity begins work on ‘net zero’ homes

East Austin natives Steve and Elida Quiroz can’t wait to host larger family gatherings in a home with enough room for many place settings, on a street with enough parking for everyone.

“Having a regular-sized table instead of a little table for two … is something I look forward to,” Elida Quiroz said Thursday morning, as crews began framing the structure that will become her home.

The homes being built by Austin Habitat for Humanity for the Quirozes and three other East Austin families feature another perk: They’re the first of the nonprofit’s “net zero” homes, with solar panels and energy-efficient features that will mean little to no energy bill for the homeowners.

ALSO READ: Utility plans community solar farm in East Austin

The homes will be built with mostly sustainable materials, including thicker insulation and higher quality windows.

“Solar panels are what is going to make these homes net zero,” said Billy Whipple, vice president of construction for Austin Habitat. “Our goal is to have it consume as little energy as possible, passively, then have it create its own energy to offset whatever it does consume.”

Construction is expected to finish by July on these four homes, located about a half-mile northwest of Airport Boulevard and Springdale Road. The homes are priced at $175,000 with 1,357 square feet, three bedrooms and 2½ baths — approximately $134,525 below the 2017 average market value for such a home in East Austin.

Families will buy the homes with a zero-interest mortgage and lease the underlying land from a community land trust owned by the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation. The arrangement means homeowners will be taxed only on the house, not the land itself.

PREVIOUSLY: Three families get keys to new Habitat homes in East Austin

Officials said the construction cost per square foot for a “net zero” home is approximately 25 percent more than the standard homes that Austin Habitat builds, with the biggest upfront cost being the solar panels. Homes are funded through fundraising and cooperation with the city.

Mark Rogers, executive director of the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, described the 11-acre site where the homes are being built as “an island in the middle of an ocean of gentrification and displacement.”

An additional 121 affordably priced homes, not of the “net zero” variety, are also planned for the site.

“The people that have lived here all their lives, and their parents and grandparents in many cases, can’t afford to live in their own community without the help of people like Habitat and Guadalupe Neighborhood Development and the city of Austin,” Rogers said. “So we try very hard to make sure the folks from East Austin that have ties to this community have the first shot at getting into our rental housing and our ownership.”

ALSO READ: How one Austin affordable housing district escaped Abbott’s veto

City Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, who campaigned on a platform of creating more affordable housing in Austin, said this project held sentimental value to him.

“This has been something very near and dear to my heart ever since I was a child and faced the possibility of being homeless,” Renteria said. “If it weren’t for the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation helping my family out at that time, when I was about 16 years old, I don’t know what would have happened to my family.”

Correction: This article has been updated to correct an editing error about the location of the site where the “net zero” homes are being built.

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