LEED-ing the way: CDCB builds first home of its type in the Valley

February 22, 2019 GMT

Brownsville has completed the first LEED Gold-certified house south of San Antonio, constructed through the YouthBuild Brownsville program of the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville.

CDCB assists an average of 150 families a year find affordable housing through its homeownership, rental and counseling programs. YouthBuild empowers young people 16-24 through a focus on education, construction training, leadership development and community service.

A Thursday tour of the new house on Valley River Road, next door to and across the street from two LEED Silver homes also built by CDCB, drew a number of officials, with a ribbon cutting compliments of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce Bienvenidos Committee.

Among the speakers were Nick Mitchell-Bennett, CDCB executive director.

“Every year we decide that we’re going to throw all we’ve got at one house, just to prove that low-income folks, middle-income folks, have the right to live in something as decent as the wealthy,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done here.”

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED certification indicates that a structure has been build according to a set of standards to make it more energy efficient, and using building materials that are healthier for human habitation compared to conventional structure. Gold is the second highest level of LEED certification. Platinum is the highest.

Mitchell-Bennett said CDCB likely will shoot for Platinum with its LEED house-after-next. They’re slightly more expensive to build than conventional houses because of the special windows, plumbing fixtures and such, but the savings to homeowners over time makes it a smart investment, he said.

“The guy living next door pays $50 a month for his utility bill,” Mitchell-Bennett said. “That’s awesome. The payoff is tremendous, and you know it’s healthier for you.”

CDCB builds one or two LEED houses a year, and while they’re a lot of work, Brownsville’s need is great, and CDCB wants to create a system “for knocking them out,” he said.

“And that way we can prove to folks at the city, at the county, that this is actually doable and it’s affordable and it’s actually better for the buyer later on,” Mitchell-Bennett said.

But none of would be possible without partnerships, he said. Wells Fargo, for instance, donated $15,000 for the LEED Gold house and another $15,000 for the LEED Silver next door. The bank also supplied volunteers, he said.

“Not only did they help us with financial support, but they helped us with volunteer labor,” Mitchell-Bennett said. “They spent hours here with us helping to build this house alongside the YouthBuild students.”

CDCB’s other partners on the project included AmeriCorps, Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, Brownsville Public Utilities Board, city of Brownsville, NeighborWorks America, Texas Southmost College, United Way of Southern Cameron County and the U.S. Department of Labor.

“You can’t do anything alone in this city,” Mitchell-Bennett said. “You’ve got to do it with other folks.”

The LEED Gold house was designed by TSC architecture program alumni Gilbert Gonzalez, soon to graduate with a bachelor’s of science in architecture from Texas Tech. TSC architecture instructor Murad Abusalim said that each year his class works on a house design for CDCB, which selects its favorite design from among the 10 or 15 proposals the class generates.

He said TSC’s architecture program is a “constant partner” with CDCB on housing projects, adding that it’s time to tackle a LEED Platinum design.

“It’s just a matter of learning from the previous experience and building it,” Abusalim said. “I don’t see why not in the very near future.”

Mitchell-Bennett used some of his time at the podium to reiterate that “affordable housing is an issue for the city of Brownsville,” and challenged elected officials — city, county and statewide — to figure out how to help hardworking families struggling to pay the bills buy affordable homes to buy or rent.

“Fifty percent of the population of Brownsville pays more than 50 percent of their income monthly to pay for rent,” he said. “That is not right, because these are hardworking families. These are families who are earning, going to work every day. It’s not like they can work any harder, right?”