New Orleans, Louisiana: The St. Peter Apartments Provides Affordable Net Zero Housing for Veterans
Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans in 2005 inspired local and national recovery efforts attentive to the entire cycle of a community’s response to natural disaster. Within months of the hurricane, St. Bernard Project incorporated as a nonprofit to respond to the city’s recovery needs and has since expanded to address disaster resilience nationally. By 2018, the organization had changed its name to SBP and rebuilt 1,680 houses in 17 states and Puerto Rico. In recent years, SBP has focused on the development of affordable, energy-efficient, and resilient housing for low- to moderate-income populations. The St. Peter Apartments, a 3-story, 50-unit building in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans, is SBP’s first multifamily project and represents the nonprofit’s commitment to sustainable affordable housing as a critical component of disaster recovery. The first net zero multifamily energy project in Louisiana, the St. Peter achieves energy efficiency through rooftop photovoltaic panels and battery storage and resiliency through design features to protect residents from natural disasters. The project, which relied on a partnership with the public utility Entergy New Orleans as well as AmeriCorps, provides a model for protecting lower-income residents from economic displacement during their neighborhood’s longer-term recovery. SBP earned a 2020 HUD Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships for its innovative solution to affordable housing in New Orleans.
The St. Peter
The St. Peter, which opened in early 2020, consists of 50 one- and two-bedroom units on a lot adjacent to SBP’s national headquarters. Twenty-nine units are affordable to households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). Rents for 20 of those units are subsidized with project-based vouchers, with the Louisiana Housing Corporation providing 4 vouchers and the Housing Authority of New Orleans providing 16. The St. Peter’s remaining 21 units are rented at market rates and targeted to households earning between 60 and 120 percent of AMI. SBP has prioritized half of the development’s units for veterans.
The project’s common spaces are intended to foster interaction and support resident needs. Indoor common spaces consist of a wellness center and a community center with a kitchenette and a computer lab. Outdoor community spaces include a courtyard that contains a community garden and a playground, which was added to the development to accommodate the children living in the building. A full-time benefit services coordinator, who holds office hours in the community center, is available to help residents navigate social service programs offered by outside providers, such as the New Orleans Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) located only a mile away. The coordinator also provides direct services, including employment assistance. A veteran on SBP’s staff joins the coordinator in reviewing résumés, a service that is available to all residents but is specifically targeted to residents who are veterans transitioning from military to civilian life. The coordinator also oversees community programs and social events, such as a book exchange, movie nights, holiday parties, and community gardening. The coordinator is available to support residents facing financial challenges, helping them obtain rental assistance, for example, by navigating government and nonprofit programs that reduce the economic impacts of the pandemic. According to Lauren Avioli, real estate development manager at SBP, the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced indoor community events and has required the coordinator to plan outdoor events, such as coloring and playground activities for children.
SBP acquired the property for its office building and the St. Peter in 2015. According to Liz McCartney, cofounder and chief operating officer at SBP, the decision to build affordable housing adjacent to the headquarters, which was relocated from its original position outside of the city limits, was motivated by the desire not only to be accessible to the organization’s New Orleans clients but also to provide critically needed units for low- and moderate-income residents in a changing area of the city. According to the American Community Survey, the average household income in the Mid-City neighborhood increased by $12,000 between 2000 and 2019, and housing costs have risen significantly in the last 5 years according to a market study prepared for the developer in advance of the project. McCartney attributes the neighborhood’s increasing desirability to several investments made in recent years, including the relocation of the New Orleans VAMC to the previously blighted area, the development of a Whole Foods grocery store, and the transformation of the nearby Lafitte Greenway into a popular recreational area. By providing needed affordable housing in a gentrifying neighborhood of New Orleans, the St. Peter protects lower-income households from possible economic displacement.
The First Net Zero Building in Louisiana Reduces Energy Costs
The St. Peter is Louisiana’s first net zero multifamily building. The building achieves net zero performance through rooftop solar panels, an onsite battery storage system, other sustainable features, and individualized attention to residents’ energy use. The building’s 450 photovoltaic panels send electricity to a battery system that helps satisfy peak demand and supplies backup power to the building during natural disasters, such as Hurricane Zeta in 2020. Any excess electricity that the solar panels generate after the battery is full is exported to New Orleans’ power grid. One master meter and 50 meters in individual units help SBP track energy use, which the benefit services coordinator reviews and discusses with residents to reduce their energy demand. Resilient features protect both the solar panels and the battery system during storm events. The solar panels have a mounting system capable of withstanding winds of up to 144 miles per hour, and the battery system is mounted 3 feet above grade to protect it from floodwaters.
SBP believes that the St. Peter’s net zero sustainability benefits residents directly. According to McCartney, the building’s energy efficiency leads to utility bills that are low and consistent throughout the year, which helps residents budget their limited incomes and build economic resilience on top of resilience to future disasters. In addition to the solar panels and battery storage system, passive design features as well as energy-efficient lighting; appliances; and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems reduce the building’s energy use. The St. Peter incorporates building materials that further mitigate climate change through a 54 percent reduction in embodied carbon.
Financing for the St. Peter
Low-income housing tax credits and a loan from Home Bank, N.A. financed almost three-quarters of the project’s $11 million development cost (table 1). Entergy New Orleans, which has worked closely with SBP since the organization’s founding, provided more than $1 million to support the project. The public utility is interested in the St. Peter as a demonstration project highlighting the benefits of solar panels and net zero energy. As with most of SBP’s developments, the St. Peter relied on AmeriCorps members and volunteers in the construction phase, saving 10 to 40 percent compared with using only contractors.
Table 1: Funding Sources for the St. Peter
|Low-income housing tax credits||$4,500,681|
|Home Bank, N.A. loan||3,588,764|
|National Housing Trust Fund loan (through the Louisiana Housing Corporation)||500,000|
|General partner equity and Entergy grant||1,681,998|
|Deferred developer fee||778,484|
SBP’s Expanding Efforts
A major impetus for SBP to undertake the St. Peter project was to protect low- and moderate-income residents from the effects of gentrification in the Mid-City neighborhood. The key to helping low- and moderate-income residents stay in place over the long term, says Avioli, is to rebuild for longevity by creating affordable, energy-efficient, and resilient units such as those at the St. Peter. To reinforce the effect of the relocation of the headquarters and the construction of the St. Peter, SBP plans additional residential and commercial projects on the block to ensure that lower-income families benefit from the community’s development. SBP has initiated the Opportunity Housing Program to develop blighted and underutilized properties into for-sale and rental housing affordable to low- and moderate-income households in Mid-City and areas beyond that are at risk of experiencing a natural disaster. The St. Peter is part of this program, which has developed more than 100 energy-efficient, affordable, and resilient properties. SBP plans to expand the Opportunity Housing Program to Houston in 2021 and Puerto Rico in 2022.