South Kimbark Avenue Chicago


Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing that has become increasingly popular in the United States over the past decade. In this model, residents commit to active participation in their community's daily life, as well as in its design and operations. Although individual homes are private spaces with all the features of conventional homes, cohousing projects include shared facilities such as a common house (for shared meals, classes, meetings, etc.), open space, a playground, and outdoor gathering spaces.1

In an old building on Chicago's south side, a small cohousing community has been created with a "green" identity that distinguishes it from its neighbors. The project is located in Woodlawn, a neighborhood near the University of Chicago that is undergoing gentrification after decades of building decay. Some longtime residents now struggle to afford to remain in the neighborhood. Woodlawn Development Associates (WDA) viewed this project, Greenway Park, as an avenue to provide affordable housing for local Chicago residents, as well as to strengthen neighborhood cohesiveness and self-sufficiency through the cohousing model.

When WDA purchased the decrepit three-story masonry building (as well as the vacant lot next door), it had been abandoned for six years, and was in need of major rehabilitation. The architect, Sam Marts; the developer; and a core of potential residents made plans to reconfigure the traditional "six-flat" building into a 10-unit affordable cohousing project, including an interior common space and exterior areas for gardening and recreation. The project involved demolition of all interior walls and finishes, new windows, a new roof, and new heating, electrical, and plumbing systems. Completed in 2000, Greenway Park is comprised of 4 one-bedroom, 4 two-bedroom, and 2 three-bedroom apartments. Four of the units are for residents making no more

Units on the back of the Greenway Park building

include large windows, ample balconies, and a ramp accessing ADA-accessible units on the first floor. A grassy area behind the building provides an outdoor gathering spot, with gardens on the side and next door.

© Woodlawn Development Association.

than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), and the other six are designated for those making no more than 50 percent of AMI. (Currently, however, 3 of the units receive an additional subsidy to rent to very low-income residents making no more than 30 percent of AMI.)

Greenway Park is one of the first cohousing projects created exclusively for low-income residents (most such projects are for middle- to upper-middle-class residents, and a few are mixed income) and is structurally a rental project (most cohousing projects raise construction funds by preselling units). Unlike most cohousing projects, it does not yet have a common house, although WDA hopes to build one soon on the adjacent vacant lot. Also, the building is the first affordable housing project in Chicago to have no professional manager. Greenway Park is self-managed by its residents, and future tenants are selected by current tenants (while following fair housing guidelines), with preference given to current residents of the Woodlawn neighborhood. Residents do most of the management entirely on their own, including maintaining shared basement laundry facilities, collecting money, and handling repairs. One resident also serves as a part-time paid management assistant.

The building was initially intended to be mixed income, but lenders' guidelines precluded this from happening. Instead, a larger mixed-income community is slowly growing, spread out over several lots, with plans for future additions. In 2001, WDA renovated two three-flat buildings across the back alley from Greenway Park into 12 for-sale condominiums (on the low end of market rate). WDA is now in the process of developing plans for a shared common house and additional for-sale housing to be built on the lot adjacent to Greenway Park on the south side. The common house would be shared by all three developments, offering a gathering place for community meals, meetings, classes, and possibly guest quarters. WDA is again working with architect Sam Marts and has asked him to include as many green items as possible.

The residents worked with Chicago Botanic Gardens to create gardens behind their building as well as on the vacant lot next door. Supplies were donated, and residents contributed the labor to plant the gardens.

© Woodlawn Development Association.


This project has already served as a learning opportunity in several ways. WDA received funding assistance from the state of Illinois to integrate environmentally responsive features into this project, with the goal of applying lessons learned here to future affordable multifamily projects. Greenway Park's green efforts focused on an integrated approach that incorporated a package of energy-efficient building practices, the deliberate substitution of a variety of green building materials for their more conventional counterparts, and a 2.4 kW rooftop photovoltaic system. Greenway Park Cohousing also served as a core part of a publication titled Building for Sustainability, produced by one of its funders, the Chicago Community Loan Foundation (CCLF). Many others interested in affordable green housing have toured the development or learned about the measures undertaken here by reading the case study in CCLF's booklet.

Since WDA believed that long-term affordability meant keeping heating costs low, it decided to focus on improving the building's energy efficiency. Keenly aware that its budget lacked the flexibility to do this, WDA applied to the state of Illinois's Energy Efficient Affordable Housing program (part of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, or DCCA) for an up-front grant of $20,000 to offset incremental costs associated with improved energy efficiency.

Additionally, energy consultant Paul Knight contributed technical expertise and manager of DCCA's program Maureen Davlin later offered to pay the difference of $25,632 if Greenway Park would replace an assortment of products typically used in affordable housing projects with more resource-efficient or green products in an effort to identify and experiment with new products that might be


Project Size: Phase I: 10 units in one 11,694 sq ft building on 0.25 acres

Phase II: 12 for-sale condos (in two buildings) across the back alley Phase III: Will include a common house and additional for-sale units (utilizing a "limited equity cooperative" model to retain affordability in perpetuity) on lot adjacent to Greenway Park Cohousing

Construction Cost: $791,822

Total Development Cost: $1,203,765 Completion Date: February 2000;

originally built in 1916

Project Team

Developer/Owner: Architect: General Contractor: MEP Engineer: Financial Consultant: Energy Consultant: Landscape Architect:

Woodlawn Development Associates Sam Marts Architects and Planners South Chicago Workforce Domus PLUS Pusateri Development Domus PLUS

Chicago Botanic Gardens (postoccupancy grant)

Note: All details pertain to Phase I, the affordable cohousing project, only.

widely applicable in future affordable projects. The collaboration between the state and the project team also led to additional funding for a rooftop photovoltaic (PV) system, to illustrate how PV could be used in affordable housing.

Superior Energy Efficiency Through an Integration of Measures: A high level of energy efficiency was achieved through a package of measures that together produce results that are superior to the sum of their parts. Maureen Davlin, explains that the approach uses "a package of energy-efficient building measures that we want to see incorporated in building rehab. These measures include high insulation levels, air sealing and ventilation, and high-efficiency heating systems. Developers can't pick and choose the energy measures they want. They have to understand that these measures work in concert with each other."

Numerous techniques were used to increase the building's energy performance. For example, a thermal break was created between the inside face and the outside of exterior walls. Rock wool insulation was sprayed into this cavity for a total R-value of 18.6 (much higher than the R-value of the masonry alone). The building was also carefully insulated by spraying rock wool into the ceiling cavities between floors and placing wool in the attic and crawlspace.2 An efficient central hydronic heating system (using two 94 percent efficient warm-water boilers) was chosen. The two 60-gallon units also provide domestic hot water. There is no air-conditioning as units rely on ceiling fans for air circulation, and a reflective coating applied to the roof reduces interior temperatures on the top floor during hot summer months. The building's ventilation system focuses on the rooms that create the most moisture, the kitchen and the bathrooms. Kitchen exhaust fans are vented to the outside instead of using recirculating hoods and bathrooms also have a direct-vented fan.

The 2.4 kW photovoltaic system installed on the roof provides a portion of the power for common-area lighting and laundry facilities (which are in the basement). This system includes four modules, each containing eight 75-



• Permeable parking lot created by removing former cement slab garage and laying permeable product that allows grass to grow and snow to melt

• Grassy community open space created between back of building and parking area

• Community gardens funded and designed with resident input and participation by Chicago Botanic Gardens


• Water-conserving showerheads (2.5 gpm)

• Low-flow aerated faucets in kitchens and bathrooms


• Two warm-water boilers supply space heating, each with an output rating of 105,000 Btu and a seasonal efficiency of 87.3%

• A 2.4 kW rooftop grid-tied photovoltaic system offsets lighting and other common-area loads

• Domestic water heating prodded by two water heaters, each with a seasonal efficiency of 94%

• All windows replaced with double-glazed, low-e single-hung windows

• Blower-door tests conducted to ensure tight construction

• Airtight drywall approach (ADA) used to achieve air sealing.

• No mechanical cooling system

• ceiling fans provided for circulation

• CFLs used for all common-area lighting. Twenty-four 27-watt fluorescent fixtures in stairwell and hallways remain on constantly for safety. Seven exterior 27-watt fixtures remain on at night for security

• ENERGY STAR® refrigerators

Materials and Resources

• Interior of masonry walls framed with engineered wood studs

• Rock wool insulation used to improve thermal efficiency of exterior walls by a factor of almost 8. Total R-value is 18.6. (Masonry wall alone has R-value of 2.4.)

• Damage-resistant FibeRock drywall made from recycled newsprint and gypsum installed in high-use areas such as hallways

• Glass tiles containing 70% recycled glass (in bathrooms and front entry)

• Carpeting made from recycled PET (polyethylene terephtha-late) plastic

• Rear porch decking and handicap ramp made of recycled plastic lumber

Health and Comfort

• Formaldehyde-free Medex used in place of conventional medium-density fiberboard for interior windowsills, staircase and entryway baseboards, and kitchen countertop bases and substrates

• Nontoxic water-based interior caulk and low-VOC primer

• Water-based urethane floor finish

• Recyled felt carpet padding made of waste fibers without chemical additives

• Carpet secured with tack strips rather than glued down to avoid VOC offgassing

• Reflective roof coating used to reduce interior temperature of top floor units during hot months

• Individually controlled thermostats installed in each unit watt panels. Two inverters are located in the basement electrical room to convert the power generated by the PV system from DC to AC. When electricity is generated, it feeds into the common-area circuitry instead of using power from the electric utility. When excess power is generated, it feeds back into the utility's system. In order to keep costs down, battery storage was not included.

Pat Wilcoxen of WDA says that the package of energy-efficient measures "has made a noticeable difference [in the building's performance], especially since heating costs have increased. It keeps cooler than other buildings, too."


This major rehabilitation project cost $791,822, or $67.71 per square foot, in construction costs, with another $281,178 in soft costs, including land acquisition.

WDA paid $96,600 to purchase the building and land. WDA also paid an additional $37,000 to buy the lot next door. In a demonstration of local grassroots confidence, WDA raised the funds for site acquisition via thirty unsecured loans from friends and families, ranging from $500 to $20,000. These loans were paid back once permanent financing was secured. Predevelopment costs were financed by a $75,000 loan from the Chicago Community Loan Foundation. A $49,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank, conditioned on income and disability requirements, was used as owner's equity. Additional owner's equity came from private donor gifts of $10,414.

Construction was financed by conventional mortgages from three lenders that insisted the contractor be bonded. However, the contractor selected, South Chicago Workforce (a nonprofit organization that trains minorities in the building trades), hadn't been in business long enough to be eligible for bonding. Getting around this requirement necessitated a letter of credit for $40,000, which the contractor did not have. To meet the letter-of-credit terms, WDA applied $20,000 from its earlier prede-velopment loan from CCLF (while paying back the rest before construction began) and obtained unsecured loans for $20,000.

The cost of green features was covered by three separate grants from DCCA. DCCA's Illinois Energy Efficient Affordable Housing Program (EEAH) granted $20,000 to subsidize the package of energy efficiency measures that added $2,000 per unit. (Because these measures were integrated into the project—rather than add-ons—these funds were factored into the original lending package.) This grant also included technical assistance and post-occupancy performance evaluation. After closing, DCCA provided additional grant monies directly to the contractor to cover the cost of the 2.4 kW photovoltaic system ($29,720) as well as to subsidize green materials ($25,632) that cost more than conventional building materials.

Savings and Additional Costs: Annual heating costs for the building run around $2,300 (5.0 Btu/ft2F, assuming $0.60/therm) or $230 per unit. Without the energy-efficient building practices, annual space heating costs would have been about $570 per unit, for a total of $5,700. This is an annual savings of $3,400, or $340 per unit. In winter 2005-2006, when the price of natural gas dramatical-



Equity and Grants

Grant from Federal Home Loan Bank

(to use as owner's equity) $49,000 Grant from Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (for integrated energy efficiency measures; PV, green materials) $75,352

Private Donations $10,414


Chicago Community Loan Foundation $75,000 Lasalle Bank (1st mortgage,

30-yr adjustable rate) $194,000 Illinois Housing Development Authority

(2nd mortgage, 0% interest) $500,000 Illinois Department of Housing Joint

Lenders Program (3rd mortgage, 0% interest) $299,999

Total Sources $1,203,765

ly increased, utility bills were much lower than at comparable buildings in the neighborhood without energy features.

Using green materials at Greenway Park added approximately 3 percent, or $23,755, to the cost of construction, as compared with conventional practices. Applying just the average utility cost savings of $3,400 per year to this upcharge results in a seven-year payback period.


Working Together: Green Building and Cohousing

Green building advocates frequently encourage involving all stakeholders early in the planning and design process. Although this effort often focuses on the project team, resident input is also important as is the input of those who will be operating and maintaining a building. Thus the goals of cohousing and green building mesh well, as the early integral involvement of residents is an important facet of cohousing. A cadre of interested potential residents was identified to help shape the plans for Greenway Park. For example, collaboration between the residents and the architect resulted in an unanticipated floor plan that better satisfied the residents' needs—a combined kitchen/dining room/living room rather than the more traditional living room in the front and kitchen in the back, with bedrooms in between.

In looking toward the design and programming of the building(s) to be developed next door to Greenway Park

"Superinsulation has made a noticeable difference [in the building's performance], especially since heating costs have increased. It keeps cooler than other buildings, too." Pat Wilcoxen

Cohousing, WDA is again encouraging resident participation, believing the earlier process to have worked well. Says Wilcoxen, "We'll go through this process again by having the residents involved from the outset." Several residents have expressed interest in moving to the new, limited-equity cooperative building once it is finished, while others are also providing input as future users of the common house.

Resource-Efficient Materials: Much has changed since Greenway Park was built in 2000. Many green building materials once considered exotic are now mainstream (e.g., cork or bamboo flooring, materials with recycled content, recycled plastic lumber decking). Numerous new green materials have entered the marketplace, and costs for green projects continue to go down. But at the time Greenway Park was built, applying green materials to low-income housing was a novel idea. Although the architect and contractor were eager to pursue the green agenda, it was the contractor's first experience with many of the materials. Their experiences with and comments about specific materials and products are well documented in a Home

Energy article authored by the project's energy consultant Paul Knight.3 Looking back recently, Knight noted that were this project to be built now, rather than in 2000, the project team would likely specify less toxic, no- or low-volatile-organic-compound finishes, and other materials that contribute to healthy indoor air quality.

In general, WDA and the design/development team were happy with the new resource-efficient materials used. Says architect Marts, "This project confirmed what we felt about green products. From the users' perspective, [the project] was successful because it removed hesitancy in trying new things."

Most of the green products were well received by the contractor, and the team felt their additional cost (if any) could be justified by their benefits. However, opinions differed on the recycled-glass bathroom tiles. According to Marts, "Everyone liked the tile with recycled glass. It lent a little sparkle, and was slip-resistant. We didn't use much, because it was concentrated in the bathroom floor. It came with a quality level that was immediately apparent." However, the contractor found that the Terra Traffic tiles were "more difficult to set, and installation costs were greater."4 Knight notes that they probably wouldn't use the recycled-glass tiles again because the total incremental cost was steep ($3,200, or almost $3.50 more per tile).

Looking ahead to the next stage of the community's development, Marts says, "There will be green products without even really trying. I imagine the residents will want green materials, because it is part of their mandate."

Approvals and Codes: As is typical with unique projects, at times local codes stood in the way of achieving the project exactly as it was envisioned. During the first year of occupancy, WDA kept the smallest apartment vacant for use as a temporary common space for community meetings and potlucks. However, during an annual review, one of their lenders concluded that the vacant apartment also needed to be rented to meet lending requirements—within sixty days. Since then, the tenants have been holding community meetings and other events in the basement, which works fine, but the space is not as conducive for creating community.

Because of the energy efficiency measures, only one small furnace was needed, but city code officials simply could not believe the low energy use projections. Thus, the basement houses two small, efficient furnaces, but the second is fairly redundant and really functions as a backup furnace. City codes at the time also did not permit the cellulose insulation that DCCA was funding as part of the green materials package. The architect and contractor both tried to get an exception but were ultimately not successful. This led to the substitution of rock wool insulation, which has performed well and has been enthusiastically recommended by the contractor for future projects.

Photovoltaic Panels in Affordable Housing:

Greenway Park's rooftop PV system was the first time that the city had issued a permit for a rooftop PV system as part of a "regular" residential building, rather than as a demonstration project. However, it hasn't been completely smooth sailing. One inverter needs replacement, and the residents, who fund the maintenance and repair budget through their collective rents, have not yet identified funds to repair it. Although the utility buys back excess power, the monthly check Greenway Park residents receive is but a pittance, totaling about $100 annually. Despite these realities, Wilcoxen says that WDA would include PV again because, "I think it's only by people doing it and having the experience that things will improve."

Creating Community / Looking Ahead: The aim of cohousing is to create a community in which everyone participates in decision making as well as in maintaining the community. Architect Marts observes that "part of creating community is creating identity as well." The green aspects were "helpful in creating an identity for the community—

not everyone has a solar panel on their roof. [The residents can think], 'My house is special.'" In an article that appeared in the University of Chicago Chronicle, university employee and local resident Jim Nitti said, "Since I've known about the Greenway Park project, I've seen a remarkable improvement in the area immediately surrounding it. It's as if the sense of community that the residents of Greenway Park feel and their connection to each other is contagious."

Currently, WDA is focusing on developing a plan for designing and building the common house, as well as some adjacent units. This poses a challenge in a mixed-income community in which renters with lower incomes can't bear much of the cost burden, but the expense somehow needs to be equitable. The new residents should not bear the entire burden if these neighbors in cohousing are also using the common house. One potential solution under consideration is a sweat equity program through which cohousing residents could contribute labor in place of monetary funds. Developing a site plan for the new building is made more challenging by the existence of cherished community gardens currently planted on the vacant lot.


Developer: Woodlawn Development Associates

Pat Wilcoxen, treasurer and housing chair: 773-643-7495

Architect: Sam Marts Architects and Planners

Sam Marts: 773-862-0123; [email protected]

Energy consultant: Domus PLUS

Paul Knight, principal: 708-386-0345


"Airtight Drywall Approach," Energy Fact Sheet 24, developed by Southface Energy Institute with funding from the GA Environmental Facilities Authority, USDOE, USEPA, March 2002,

&services/publications/factsheets/24ada_drywal.pdf. More information on the airtight drywall approach, as well as on the related strategy of simple caulk and seal, can be found at _home/insulation_airsealing/index.cfm/mytopic=11310 and _information/Building_Design_and_Construction /airtight_drywall.htm.

"Building for Sustainability: Creating Energy-Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Affordable Housing in Chicago," a publication of the Chicago Community Loan Fund, 2001 (includes case study on Greenway Park, pp. 16-21),

Cohousing Association of the United States:

"Encouraging Photovoltaic System Installations in 'Green' Affordable Multifamily Housing," a report prepared by Peregrine Energy Group for the Clean Energy States Alliance, April 14, 2005, /library/Reports/Peregrine_Multifamily_PV_Scoping _Memo.pdf.

Energy and Environmental Building Association, "Criteria for Energy and Resource Efficient Building,"

Knight, Paul, "Green Products Brighten Multifamily Rehab," Home Energy Magazine Online, (November/

December 2000), /hem

"Residents of Woodlawn Seeing Improvements, as a 40-year Rebuilding Effort Starts to Pay Off," University of Chicago Chronicle, November 2, 2000,


1. According to the Cohousing Association of the United States, cohousing communities share six defining characteristics: (1) participatory process: future residents participate in the design of the community so that it meets their needs, and participate in regular community meetings; (2) neighborhood design: the physical layout and orientation of the buildings encourages a sense of community; (3) common facilities: common facilities are designed for daily use, are an integral part of the community, and are always supplemental to the private residences; (4) resident management; (5) nonhierarchical structure and decision making; and (6) no shared community economy.

2. For in-depth technical detail on this project, please refer to energy consultant Paul Knight's Home Energy article "Green Products Brighten Multifamily Rehab," Home Energy Magazine Online (November/December 2000), /001114.html#partners.

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