Friday, September 3, 2010

Northwood bound

Ketchum affordable-housing complex Northwood Place to open this month

Express Staff Writer

Crews place a set of solar panels onto the roof of the Northwood Place affordable-housing complex on Wednesday. A total of 247 panels will be installed, expected to generate 71,000 kilowatts per year. According to Living Architecture owner Dale Bates, who designed the complex, the energy produced by the panels will offset the energy needs of Northwood’s geothermal heat pump system, which provides snowmelt. Photo by David N. Seelig

The walls are painted, the kitchen cabinets' bamboo doors are hinged into place, the Energy Star appliances have been installed, and even the light bulbs are screwed in. Some final exterior touches remain, such as laying a total of 247 solar panels on the five building's roofs.

However, construction of Ketchum's first solely affordable-housing complex, Northwood Place, is a little ahead of schedule. And two of the buildings will be seeing moving boxes at the end of the month, according to Dale Bates of the Ketchum Community Development Corp., which organized the project. He said the other three buildings should be ready for tenants by mid-October.

And, Bates said, he hopes the complex's 32 apartments will be rented immediately. However, CDC Executive Director Jon Duval said attracting applicants for the two- and three-bedroom units has been harder than the one-bedroom units. He said he expects interest to be piqued once the property no longer looks like a construction site.

Six of the units will be three bedrooms, 14 will be two bedrooms and 12 will be one bedroom. And just because someone doesn't make much money doesn't guarantee they'll be accepted. Duval said renters have to make less than a certain amount but can't make too little, either. Renters have to fall within a window based on unit size. And rent fluctuates based on income. Duval said average rent for a one-bedroom unit is $500, but the lowest is about $350. Rent for a two-bedroom unit is between $700 and $800. And three-bedroom units usually run at about $1,100 a month.

Bates said another challenge of attracting renters is battling the stigma associated with affordable housing. He said affordable doesn't automatically correlate inversely to quality, providing examples—big and small—of how Northwood Place doesn't just meet the bar, but often exceeds it.


He said the bathroom and stovetop fans don't just suck air out of the room but also bring in fresh air from the outside. He said the complex was purposefully designed to consist of five buildings, instead of one or two, to increase privacy. There aren't just two stairways at the end of a long hallway connecting all the units, like a hotel. Bates said no more than four units use one stairway. Another plus of five buildings is immediately evident in any of the units, which have few wall-to-wall neighbors and more windows.

"Every unit has either southern exposure or east and west exposure. Here we are in an apartment near the end of the day and you don't need a light on," Bates said, later adding, "You can see Baldy from three rooms in this apartment."

A long outdoor corridor runs between the buildings. The ground is covered with a meandering pathway of pavers and vegetation. The channel is overlooked by decks, in that respect looking similar to a small European street, as was the intention. Circular plots provide gardening space for tenants.

And none of the exterior will need plowing or shoveling during the winter. Solar panels provide power to the snowmelt system as well as the heat and electricity to all the common areas, meaning it's a bill the tenants wouldn't be forced to foot in their rents.

Duval and Bates are calling Northwood Place an undisputed achievement for the CDC, coming on the heels of Ketchum Town Square, completed this summer using mostly funds the CDC raised. Before that was the Fourth Street Heritage Corridor project, which involved widening sidewalks, narrowing the street and adding new street lights and places for public art to make the town center more pedestrian friendly.

But the CDC isn't just basking in its achievement. Duval said plans are already being hatched for the next affordable-housing complex. He said public workshops would eventually be held to see what people desire.

"There's clearly demand here for one-bedrooms," Duval said, as would be expected in Ketchum where it can be quite expensive to live alone, and many people are forced to live in groups to keep individual rents lower.

Trevon Milliard:

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