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Solar-Powered Affordable Housing

If you were hoping to get a coveted spot at Solara, a new energy-efficient apartment building in the San Diego suburb of Poway you’ve already missed your chance. The owners cut off the waiting list at 800 names. The 54 units were fully leased in three days. The apartments, which were available only to low income tenants, started at just $388 a month for a one bedroom, about a third of the market rate. On top of that, tenants will pay nothing for electricity. That’s taken care of by the solar panels you see on the roof in the photo.

The Solara projects illustrates the convergence of two trends, a long time push on the part of governments to get private developers to build low income housing through tax incentives rather than the scary, government-run public housing developments of yore. The other trend, of course, is green building.

Solara, which officially opened June 5, may be the largest green, affordable housing project in the country. Affordable housing doesn’t come cheap, however. The $16 million project required $12 million in government subsidies. Almost the entire cost of the $1.1 million solar power system was paid for through state and federal tax credits. Ted Bardacke, the senior associate at the environmental group Global Green who consulted on the project, says developers should take note. All of those credits are available for future projects. “This project didn’t receive anything out of the ordinary,” he says. “Every developer of affordable housing is looking at this and saying we can do this too.”

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