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New community offers tribal elders affordable housing with remarkable features — here's why it matters

"I think it's important for everyone to know that this can be done."

"I think it's important for everyone to know that this can be done."

Photo Credit: iStock

Oregon has built 24 new homes for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde's tribal elders, and while they are ready to be moved into today, they are built for the future. 

As reported by OPB, the homes look like typical homes with one major difference: They are extremely, and purposefully, energy efficient. 

The single-family, two-bedroom, one-bath dwellings were built as a collaborative effort between the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Energy Trust of Oregon to address the state's severe affordable housing shortage and ambitious climate goals in one.  

OPB details the energy-efficient features, including electric appliances, heat pumps, electric heat pump water heaters, renewable energy storage batteries, electric vehicle chargers, and solar panels

They are also extra insulated, have triple pane windows to help keep energy bills low, and sun tunnels, which use built-in mirrors to reflect sunlight to light the hallways without turning on a light. 

Passive architecture with features like sun tunnels is becoming more common as architects look for ways to build homes that are far less taxing on the environment but still beautiful. 

The tribes' engineering and planning manager, Ryan Webb, also shared that the homes have metal roofs that help make them resilient to wildfires and energy recovery ventilators to filter smoke. 

As Earth's temperature continues to rise, wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense, and smoke from them can be as harmful to human health as smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day, so these features will likely prove imperative. 

All of these features go a long way in reducing energy costs for the residents and Oregon's pollution created by the residential and commercial sector — mostly from burning dirty energy sources for power — which is the state's second-largest contributor to planet-warming pollution, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

"As things have changed and we've all learned more about climate change and the effects of that and the energy efficiency opportunities [that] come up, we try and do this with all of our new construction," Denise Harvey, a Tribal Council member for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, told OPB.

None of this sacrificed style, either. "It's beautiful in here," said Marcela Selwyn, one of the tribal elders receiving a home.

"I think it's important for everyone to know that this can be done," stated residential program manager Scott Leonard.

While not everyone can afford all these features, changing even one can make a big difference. 

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