What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “low-income” or “affordable housing”?
I bet it isn’t solar panels, rainwater catchments, and energy efficiency.
My friend Nora works for St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County as an affordable housing development specialist. I met her through friends in graduate school at the University of Oregon- she completed our Community and Regional Planning program the year prior to me beginning. Over time we’ve become good friends, and while I’ve known what she does professionally, I didn’t really KNOW about it, you know?
As a project manager, she deals with everything from construction and architectural contractors to a slew of contacts from local public agencies to lowly photographers like myself….awhile ago she got me a gig doing some photography of the Lamb building, a 35-unit mixed use affordable housing development. It’s a LOT of coordination amongst a LOT of working parts, and everything that can go wrong usually does (especially with those photographers), but it’s all for a worthy cause.
What she and St. Vincent de Paul are doing is making affordable housing that incorporates innovative design, giving these structures long-term value not just to future residents, but to the community as a whole. Stormwater management and energy efficiency principles, and even public art are examples of the ideas being applied.
Her newest project is the Stellar Apartments complex. You can read the local news story here. As you’ll see, they included a photo of Nora. And while a nice one, it doesn’t really give her the full exposure I thought she deserves (although she did get interviewed for a local TV news broadcast, too.)
So I dragged her out to the new site for a quick session. Weather has been pretty nice around here lately, but it started raining literally within minutes after I got a few portraits of her. The good ol’ northwest.
The photo above was taken in front of one of the most ambitious projects St. Vinnie’s has attempted to date. It’s called a “passive” structure and it’s been designed to meet the most stringent energy efficiency standard in the world. The idea is that a well-insulated and virtually air-tight structure will reduce energy consumption up to 90%. This results in huge savings on utility bills, which tend to be rising much faster than rents. Ultimately, it’s an attempt to keep the “affordable” in affordable housing, while bucking the notion that “green” doesn’t always have to mean more money.
The funniest thing about Nora’s response to seeing these told me a lot about her and how she feels about her job. In the opening photo, she was concerned about the tree behind and to her right looking like it’s dead. A true sign of a dedicated PM if there ever was one, right? She half-jokingly asked if I could fill it out a little in Photoshop, haha. Anyway, she was still dealing with loose ends on the project and I could tell she’s really put her heart and soul into making it happen. My hope is that these photos can stand as a kind of testament to her passion and dedication. I know from personal experience those aren’t always easy things to carry when you’re slogging through the oftentimes muddy field of community development.