Solar Installation Gives New Power To A Community

Located in the southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C., Parkchester Apartments was not unlike some other affordable housing developments in the city. Property owners had come and gone without making adequate investments in the nine-building complex, and residents had all but given up when its tenant association voted to bring in its current owner, The NHP Foundation (NHPF), in 2015.

Within months, residents began to see signs of improvement that were part of the nonprofit real estate developer’s mission of commitment to its properties and communities. Top on the list of changes was the realignment of Parkchester’s environmental footprint, which some argued, “Why focus on efficiency when there are plenty of bricks-and-sticks issues to tackle?” But NHPF recognized that cost-effective renovation is not at odds with prioritizing sustainability.

NHPF enlisted the expertise of GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, an affiliate office of a national nonprofit that focused on bringing solar power and energy efficiency to underserved communities. GRID Alternatives’ model of strengthening the community along with building energy independence mirrored NHPF’s holistic approach to the people it serves as well as the properties it builds, acquires, and redevelops.

Residents were leery but hopeful about the renovations, which began last year. Mindful of these sensitivities, NHPF developed the project plan to also tackle other visible changes alongside the solar installation, including exterior painting, landscaping, and updates to Parkchester’s common areas.

Along with rebuilding common areas of the property, NHPF renovated each of the units, which include a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Major changes have taken place, including walls, flooring, and the installation of energy efficient appliances. Externally, the focus on managing power has translated to the installation of solar panels on the rooftops. The 118-kilowatt system will allow NHPF to save up to 50 percent on its electricity costs, which it can reinvest into the property and units, creating more energy efficient spaces for tenants. Three of the nine buildings have been completed, and on Earth Day, NHPF collaborated with another partner to bring volunteers to start installation on the fourth building.

Around the same time NHPF took ownership of Parkchester, HAND—also known as the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers—had launched Generation HAND to train and support emerging leaders in the affordable housing and community development field. HAND wanted to develop a volunteerism program for participants, and NHPF (a HAND member) suggested the Parkchester project.

Volunteers from HAND and NHPF joined staff from GRID Alternatives to measure tracking and place a series of 38-pound cement ballasts that form the foundation of the solar panel system. Along with team building for the inaugural “Lending a HAND Community Day” event, volunteers enabled NHPF to move a step closer toward fulfilling its promise to the Parkchester community.

GRID Alternatives will continue its work at Parkchester with the help of other volunteers from local corporate groups, community organizations, volunteers, and job trainees.

“Before, this was just a place I lived; now it’s my home,” says Zina Moore, president of the Parkchester Tenant Association and a 29-year resident of the property. When renovations are completed, Parkchester will have improved kitchens, bathrooms, lighting, appliances, HVAC systems, roofs, and play areas. NHPF is also building a new community center on the property with energy cost savings from the use of solar power.

“It’s gratifying to be a part of Parkchester’s next chapter,” says Mansur Abdul-Malik, assistant vice president of development at NHPF and project manager of the Parkchester project.

(Image: Courtesy of HAND)

Timi Lewis is the founder and principal of Lewis Media Company, a communications enterprise serving small businesses and nonprofits.


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