Apartment complex is built to go gently on environment
San Diego Union Tribune
April 15, 2009
CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Learning about a healthy diet, exercise and environmentally friendly cleaning supplies isn't part of the standard agreement when moving into a new home.
But Los Vecinos on Broadway in Chula Vista isn't your typical apartment complex, as residents will find out when they begin moving in this month.
For starters, they might not have electricity bills because solar panels will provide nearly all the needed energy. Each of the 42 low-income units will have energy-efficient appliances, and the building's “cool roof” is made of a white rubbery substance, which deflects heat and needs replacing every 25 years, compared with every 10 years for an asphalt roof.
Lights left on for extended periods will automatically turn off. Bathroom fans will run until the steam from the shower has dried to prevent mold.
“We are moving in next week,” said 38-year-old Oscar Mercado. “I'm so excited.”
Los Vecinos is a redevelopment project that replaces the Tower Lodge, a run-down motel with a history of drug-related arrests and violence.
The one-, two-and three-bedroom units are owned by Wakeland Housing and Development Corp. Chula Vista pitched in $5.6 million in redevelopment funds that under state law must be set aside for affordable housing, said Mandy Mills, the city's housing manager.
“We thought it was a really important time to start showcasing a project like this to show that it can be done,” Mills said.
Depending upon their income, renters will pay between $380 and $1,100 per month.
For the Mercados, who lost their Otay Ranch condominium to foreclosure in 2007, Los Vecinos will provide renewed independence. Mercado went from making between $55,000 and $60,000 per year to $15,000.
He left his job at a car dealership in National City to begin an insurance business with his wife, which didn't work out. He later was laid off from a car rental business and has recently been on unemployment.
Mercado said he and his wife have been living with his aunt.
“It feels good to go into affordable housing,” Mercado said. “It makes us feel good again.”
Residents agree to adhere to an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly lifestyle when moving in to Los Vecinos, said Sylvia Martinez, a project manager with Wakeland. Residents are asked not to use harmful products, such as bleach, Martinez said, and there is no smoking in the complex. In addition, residents are encouraged to be energy-efficient.
On Saturday, a group of new residents attended a class where they learned about products that are environmentally safe to use and about amenities at the complex such as synthetic grass and solar panels.
“They might say, 'Gosh it might be hard to give up my Ajax.' Part of it is not having an alternative,” Martinez said. “Once we have the knowledge, we're so much more willing to act on it.”
Mercado, who said he and his wife have been using green products for about a year, are impressed that the entire complex will be using them as well.
“Why not clean with something green and that doesn't harm you?” he said.