Community Members Break Ground on New Sustainable House


Effie Kline-Salamon

Community members shovel dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new sustainable house. Zion Commu- nity Development worked with Oberlin Community Services, Providing Oberlin with Efficiency Responsibly and the Oberlin Project to plan this sustainable single-family home on the south side of Oberlin.

Louisa Liles

Construction began this week on a completely sustainable single-family home on the south side of Oberlin. The Oberlin based company Zion Community Development Corporation is building the house at 121 Smith Street as part of its new Affordable Green Housing Initiative. The project is a collaboration between Oberlin Community Services, Providing Oberlin with Efficiency Responsibly and the Oberlin Project.

Since 1995, Zion CDC has worked to revitalize the south side of Oberlin through neighborhood development, community involvement and employment opportunities. According to Board President David Sonner, building and remodeling homes to run on passive solar and electric energy is a new direction for Zion CDC.

The organization used donations to bid against other potential buyers to obtain the property. The new home will be based on a design for a 21st-century solar-powered house, presented in Trail Magic, a book by Carl McDaniel, OC ’64. Zion CDC negotiated the zoning requirements specific to this home with the city.

According to Sonner, turning the idea for a sustainable house into a reality has been a difficult process.

“[The groundbreaking] is reason to celebrate because it [has] been a long, hard struggle to this point,” said Sonner.

The official groundbreaking ceremony took place Monday evening. Among the crowd were members of the Oberlin Project, OCS and POWER.

“The Oberlin Project has several initiatives and models for greener communities; we are just one of them,” said Interim Executive Director of Zion CDC Alan Mitchell. “OCS provides us with an office and people who are socially like-minded in creating this change. POWER will go through and inspect homes and help weather them, and then Zion will call a contractor and come and do whatever they need fixed.”

The Oberlin Project represents an umbrella of initiatives with the overarching mission to improve the prosperity, resilience and sustainability of Oberlin. Oberlin Community Services works to provide food, educational support and other basic needs for community members, and POWER is a 501(c) grassroots initiative that works to improve the energy efficiency of Oberlin’s housing by providing walkthrough assessments and weatherization services to improve a home’s efficiency.

These organizations worked together under the core belief that, as Sonner puts it, “Green is gold.” Carbon-neutral and carbon-positive homes increase property values, save energy bills and improve Oberlin’s local economy. Sonner said that this house alone will bring $240,000 into the Oberlin economy.

One of the key principles Zion CDC hopes to demonstrate with this project is that residents do not and should not have to be

wealthy in order to own a sustainable home. The organization prioritizes making these houses and weatherization repairs as affordable as possible.

“[The town of ] Oberlin wants to be a reconnaissance team to demonstrate that we can build [and] we can create an economy that is not based on beating the planet to death,” said Sonner.

In recent years, the town has been working towards this goal. POWER has weatherized 22 homes since its inception in 2008 and is gaining momentum. Plans by Zion CDC to purchase another property are already underway.

“This [house] is the first of many,” Mitchell said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “We’re doing this again.”