Skip to content

Northfield project aimes to tackle twin crisis of climate change and affordable housing

Watch WCCO Video >

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — There’s a new housing development that is turning heads in a small Minnesota town. Northfield, Minnesota is home to about 20,000 people, and it’s tackling climate change and affordable housing in one cutting-edge project.

Katya Block has lived in her Northfield townhome for nearly a year. She found her spot at just the right time, and at the right price.

“I was actually kind of homeless at the time with my son,” Block said.

Hillcrest Village is a mix of affordable, subsidized and free emergency housing. It’s designed to be not only affordable but fully electric, with a “Net Zero Energy” distinction. They say they’re the first in the nation to pull it off for this type of housing.

Scott Wopata is the executive director at the Community Action Center, a basic needs organization that wanted to serve the community in a new way.

“It’s a small enough town that we all know each other, and yet it’s large enough that we experience the same challenges everybody else does with affordable housing, homelessness, climate change. And so the project was this idea of what if we took the time to try to do something about these impossible dilemmas,” Wopata said.

“When I heard about the project, that it was something different, that it’s energy-efficient, that it helps our climate, that’s everything,” Block said.

Eventually, the plot of land will become a field of solar panels so that all the utilities there are provided by on-site renewables. Each tenant will pay $20 per month for all electric and heat.

“All the income goes back to make sure there’s emergency housing options on-site, to make sure we’re also addressing homelessness in one diverse community,” Wopata said.

The team brought three local builders together to incorporate heat pumps, tight seals throughout the house, and double thick walls with double the insulation. The homes use 62% less energy compared to other new, high-quality units out there.

The cost to build 17 units was about $5.25 million. It cost around 8% more to build it above code for energy efficiency, but they say they got 5% of the extra cost back in a $250,000 rebate from Xcel Energy, tackling two huge community issues in one tiny cul de sac.

The Community Action Center is working with other communities around the state to share the lessons they learned. They mentioned groups in Rochester are particularly interested in this type of project.

Back To Top