Under Sustainable Cleveland 2019, a program implemented by the city’s mayor, sustainability has become an official goal of many city agencies, but the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), Cleveland’s public housing administration, has been working toward sustainability since 2004, putting it ahead of the Sustainable Cleveland curve. “Mayor [Frank] Jackson wants Cleveland to be the green city on the blue lake,” says Jeffery K. Patterson, CEO of CMHA. “Whether it’s achieved by creating urban farms, new buildings, or other initiatives, green will be at the front of everything we do.”
The CMHA oversees more than 10,000 housing units, and when combined with its housing voucher program, it serves more than 55,000 Cuyahoga County residents. Since it finances its programs via private and public funds, CMHA also must adhere to specific restrictions and address unique financial challenges. In other words, going green requires a very pragmatic approach. “We started in 2004 by developing an energy performance contract,” Patterson says. “We basically visited each of our sites and assessed our energy consumption. We were one of the very first PHAs [public housing authorities] in the country to do so.”
After CMHA analyzed the reports, it decided to reduce energy costs by upgrading basic features in each unit.“We started changing out light bulbs, installing low-flow faucets and toilets, and putting in high-efficiency furnaces,” says Nilantha Samarasekera, CMHA’s director of construction. “We recaulked many joints and seams in the actual building structures because we were losing a lot of heating and cooling due to leaks. We also conducted meetings to show residents how to use these features and showed them how much money they were going to save on their utility bills.”
This type of resident education has been key to CMHA’s sustainability goals because without community understanding and acceptance, the overall project would be ineffective. “We’ve involved residents right from the start,” Patterson says. “People want to help their own communities, and it just takes a program that’s informative and keeps the initiatives friendly.” Beyond educating housing residents about the basic green home upgrades, CMHA also runs the Green Team, a CMHA community group focused on cultivating on-site fruit and vegetable gardens. “Through the Green Team, residents learn about landscaping, plants, fruits, and vegetables,” Patterson says. “We even offer cooking classes in the buildings. Cleveland has many food deserts, so this gives residents access to fresh produce, and they enjoy the opportunity to learn about improving their food sustainability by growing produce themselves.”
“Mayor Jackson wants Cleveland to be the green city on the blue lake. Whether it’s achieved by creating urban farms, new buildings, or other initiatives, green will be at the front of everything we do.”
Jeffery K. Patterson, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority
It’s not just residents who have learned about sustainability from these education initiatives. CMHA’s staff has learned a great deal from the residents’ experiences in the programs, and it has used these observations to further hone its sustainability efforts in new construction projects.
CMHA’s two newest communities, the Lee Road Apartment Building and the Euclid-Belmore Building combine the CMHA’s low-tech green technologies approach with newer green-building innovations. “These buildings have everything from the low-flow plumbing fixtures to the Energy Star appliances,” says Donovan Duncan, CMHA’s director of real estate and development. “They also incorporate bigger measures like bioretention water cells that collect rainwater and locally prevalent landscaping that automatically builds in sustainable green space for residents while replenishing the ecosystems of the buildings themselves.”
Both buildings are moderate in size, standing three stories tall and containing approximately 40 units each. They’re constructed of basic durable materials, such as brick and rigid and batt insulation, so that environmental impact and structural upkeep are minimal. Inside, low-VOC paints and sealants, Green Label Plus-certified carpet, and single-dwelling air-handling units make the building a healthy living environment for residents. Both buildings even have separate, designated trash and recyclables chutes to encourage recycling. Combined, these efforts make the structures incredibly sustainable by reducing their impact on the environment through relatively small design moves.
It’s this approach—making a big impact via simple green design choices and resident education—that the CMHA believes will move Cleveland beyond its 2019 sustainability goals. “All it takes is getting people involved and learning about what sustainability really means,” Patterson. “That’s what we’re most proud of—bringing people together and creating a live dialogue that’s not just about housing, but about the greater Cleveland community.”