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Zero Energy Ready project supports affordable homes and climate justice in Northfield

Housing insecurity and climate change are two wicked and intersecting challenges that disproportionately impact those least able to adapt. Hillcrest Village, a new community-driven affordable housing development in Northfield, seeks to tip these scales to meet the needs of the community’s most vulnerable residents.

Sketch of Hillcrest Village duplex. Photo credit: Michael Joyce (Argyle Design) and Brian Nowak (Sweetgrass Design Studio).

“This is really about aligning climate justice and social justice into a single, tangible project that will help address homelessness, affordable housing and environment justice,” said Scott Wopata, executive director of the Community Action Center of Northfield (CAC), which is spearheading the project.

To support this work, the University of Minnesota Extension Southeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (Southeast RSDP) partnered with CAC last year to advance the community’s goals to address both affordable housing and climate change through the Northfield Zero Energy Ready project.

The Zero Energy Ready project helped CAC incorporate the community’s long-term vision for both social and climate justice into site plans for the Hillcrest Village development. The plans include 17 energy efficient affordable housing units, emergency shelter options, on-site renewable energy and other amenities.

Finding success with partnership

CAC engaged an interdisciplinary team of volunteers, university partners and consultants in a collaboration to show how “community solutions to housing and climate change are possible, affordable and achievable.” 

“We’re so thankful for this partnership,” said Wopata about this work. “We’ve found so much success in having both a small community conversation and a much bigger systems conversation about the impact of climate change on low-income community members through this project about housing, housing needs and emergency shelter.”

Scott Wopata, executive director of the Community Action Center of Northfield, presents during Southeast RSDP’s virtual Annual Meeting, November 2020.

Wopata and Martha Larson, volunteer project coordinator and manager of Campus Energy and Sustainability at Carleton College, worked with Southeast RSDP and other partners to integrate energy efficiency and climate planning considerations into the development’s building design, site plans and construction process. When compared to standard construction, the project team found that improving the energy efficiency of the new designs will result in lower operating costs, more comfortable spaces and higher quality construction.

Southeast RSDP engaged Daniel Handeen and Rolf Jacobson, research fellows at the University of Minnesota College of Design’s Center for Sustainable Building Research, to support CAC in this work. Other key community partners included Sweetgrass Design Studio, Northfield Environmental Quality Commission, Northfield Climate Action Plan Advisory Board, architecture firm Precipitate and local construction company Schmidt Homes.

Reaching the home stretch

With the Zero Energy Ready project complete, Hillcrest Village is now reaching the “home stretch” in its design and fundraising phases, Wopata said, with an anticipated groundbreaking in late-summer 2021.

As this vision for social and climate justice becomes a reality, the new development in Northfield can provide a model for communities in the region and across Greater Minnesota that may be rethinking affordable housing design and forming partnerships to build solutions to multiple sustainability challenges.

“The Community Action Center of Northfield and partners have been generous in sharing their story with us, which is a good and timely one in addressing many of the challenges Greater Minnesota communities like Northfield are facing,” said Anne Dybsetter, interim executive director of Southeast RSDP.

The team recommends other communities that are looking to address sustainability challenges trust in the process and bring together multiple priorities for a high-quality, long-lasting project.

“We believe in the impact of interdisciplinary efforts,” Wopata said. “This project brings a lot of partnerships and priorities to one space ... to make sure that our community is addressing today’s needs, as well as needs in the future.”


Learn more about Northfield's Hillcrest Village

Supporting a community-driven vision for Hillcrest Village, the Community Action Center of Northfield (CAC) is helping prioritize systemic approaches to climate justice and social justice that align with CAC’s mission of creating a caring, healthy and just community for all.

Explore the project …

Marie Donahue, March 2021

Marie Donahue works as a statewide sustainability storyteller with the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) and Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs).

Banner photo credit: Michael Joyce (Argyle Design) and Brian Nowak (Sweetgrass Design Studio).

Permission is granted to news media to republish our news articles with credit to University of Minnesota Extension. Images also may be republished; please check for specific photographer credits or limited use restrictions in the photo title.

Related topics: RSDP Happenings March 2021 Spring
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