Calling it “poverty housing” is too kind.
Too many people live in slums.
That's Steve Thomas' take on it, and the former host of PBS's “This Old House” and Discovery's “Renovation Nation,” takes it to the world as a national spokesman for Habitat for Humanity International, whose lofty aim is to eliminate it, whatever it's called.
This week, he's brought that message, as well as Habitat's efforts in “green,” energy-efficient homebuilding, to Oklahoma.
Wednesday afternoon, he helped with a tour of a house built by Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity in the Oklahoma City affiliate's Hope Crossing addition at NE 83 and Kelley Avenue. Thursday, he will be the keynote speaker at the triennial Housing Summit organized by the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency at Moore Norman Technology Center.
Partners aim to help
“One of the things Habitat does is to evaluate its build methodology on the basis of its impact to homeowners, and that's led Habitat, pretty much universally across the U.S., to adopt green building practices,” Thomas said.
“It all comes down to the impact on the homeowners.
“These are people who really have struggled to be able to buy a house but have, with Habitat's help. Habitat, as a ministry, considers it unethical to burden them with high energy bills — and that's really what drives the green building practices at Habitat.”
At Hope Crossing what that means is ClimateMaster geothermal heating and cooling systems, which draw heat for homes from the ground in winter and send it from homes to the ground in summer; appliances meeting the Energy Star standards of the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency; participation in Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.'s Positive Energy program — and super-energy-efficient insulation and windows, low-flow faucets and toilets and other features.
For Nicole Brown, who has lived in a Habitat home at Hope Crossing for just more than a year, it means energy bills that are half what they were in the rent house she lived in before. And it means a more comfortable living environment for her and her four sons, Javion, 8, Tremayne, 9, Thurmond, 13, and Chris, 14.
“My bills are very low. I'm used to paying a $200 electric bill. I pay a $90 electric bill, sometimes $80, $75. I've never paid more than a $100 electric bill since I've been in this home,” said Brown, whose house was built as a volunteer project of the Oklahoma City Thunder and has a Thunder Room — Javion and Tremayne's bedroom — decked out in NBA and Thunder decor.
“It's well insulated. In the summer, you don't even have to run air because, I mean, it's just so cool in the home. In the wintertime, you don't even have to run the heat because it's so hot in the home,” she said.
The Brown family is a great example of the human benefits of Habitat's turning green, said Dennis Shockley, executive director of the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency and Ann Felton Gilliland, chairman and CEO of Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity.
Hope Crossing was “green” from the get-go, when Habitat accepted the gift of a long-platted but never completed addition, renamed it and started building houses on the 59 acres in 2006, Felton Gilliland said.
“A lot of the (Habitat) affiliates are building to green standards now. I think we were one of the first to kick it off. We were really blessed to have great partners like ClimateMaster and OG&E and other partners,” she said.
“That really helped because in the early days, we certainly couldn't have afforded to do geothermal at that time. But because they were donating it to us we were able to put that in our houses. ... With all the energy efficiencies we have in our houses, the utilities for our families are half what they would be otherwise.”