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South Boston housing project builds accolades

The ecoMod project at Poplar Creek Street in South Boston, part of a grant-funded initiative of the University of Virginia dubbed ecoMod South, has won Architect Magazine’s 2013 Research and Development Award.

A design team from University of Virginia comprised of faculty and research assistants from architecture, landscape architecture and engineering has worked with Cardinal Homes of Wylliesburg and Southside Outreach, a non-profit housing organization, to build a “passive style” standard house and a “control house” on town-donated land in South Boston.

The project is a cooperative effort between the Town of South Boston, University of Virginia, SIPS of Blairs, SVHEC and Cardinal Homes of Wylliesburg.

The first two houses for the project, both owned by Southside Outreach Group, are similar, yet different.

The first is a “code house” built according to Virginia statewide building code, and the second is built by the “passive standard,” having to meet a certain standard, a standard that uses different materials than what are used in a code house, such as Styrofoam insulated panels (SIPS).

The announcement of the award is big news for Southside Outreach Executive Director Earl Howerton.

“We worked hard to get that standard,” said Howerton, who is planning for an open house at the site in the upcoming weeks.

“I estimate the houses to be about 98 percent complete,” added Howerton.

One thing Southside Outreach Group is hoping the recognition does is make funding sources aware of the need for low- and moderate-income housing for families in Southside Virginia, and how the town, a local non-profit and University of Virginia have come together in a partnership to address that need, according to Howerton.

“Hopefully, that will free up some funding for this area for the future,” he explained.

Energy use and indoor comfort of the homes will be monitored to allow the University of Virginia research team to assess the performance of the homes.

The passive house was built for $105 per square foot, and the control home was built for $70 per square foot, both figures within the range for affordable housing in most areas of the country, according to a UVA Today news release published on Monday.

The Town of South Boston and Southside Outreach Group initiated the project, with the town donating five acres of land to be used for the initial housing project in addition to land for future construction, Howerton continued.

“The town was a big partner in this project,” Howerton pointed out, adding the town also helped in clearing the site, landscaping and infrastructure.

David Kenealy, director of the Product Design & Development program at SVHEC, was very instrumental in fitting the treads to the houses, Howerton noted.

“Pretty much all of this was done with local contractors once the houses got on site,” he emphasized.  “It was a great partnership and a great project.”

Southside Outreach Group is using the project to create home ownership opportunities for low- to moderate-income families, Howerton said.

“We won’t sell the units but rent them to low- and moderate-income persons, and subsequently run them through our housing eligibility programs, run credit reports, give them financial literacy counseling and one-on-one counseling and get somebody ready for a mortgage,” explained Howerton.

“We’ll use the Southside Outreach Group construction fund to build them a house on that site and transition them out of the ecoMod to home ownership, then put another family in an ecoMod and begin again.

“Self-sustainability is the bottom line,” concluded Howerton.

The announcement of the award also was big news for South Boston Town Councilman Bill Snead.

“This is great news for South Boston,” he commented. “It will be so interesting to watch the costs of heating and cooling over a 365-day span.”