How do you build a (nearly) net-zero-energy suburb in 2008, at the nadir of the economic crash, when no bank in the country is convinced you’ll be able to sell your more energy-efficient but pricier homes?

By selling some of them cheap, apparently. That’s the solution that architect Chris Krager and civil engineer Russell M. Becker hit upon for their five-and-a-half acre Solutions Oriented Living subdivision in East Austin, Texas, reports the New York Times. Krager and Becker sold their first block of homes well below market rates to a local neighborhood development corporation, which then re-sold them at a discount to low-income buyers. That convinced the bank there was a market for super-insulated energy-efficient houses — meaning that the only remaining challenge was convincing people who want to live in a Texas subdivision that it’s no big deal if their neighbors are low-income.

But it worked — the rest of the homes sold at market rates. Buyers were attracted by the potential to heat and cool their homes with on-site geothermal wells and get their electricity from rooftop solar arrays. The homes are small by today’s standards, between 1,000 and 1,800 feet, but just right for buyers looking to right-size.

“I figured that while we were at it, we might as well take all of our interests as a design firm and put them into one prototype project,” Mr. Krager said. He wanted to “examine sustainability on a more holistic level, that would not just look at green buildings, but in our interest in affordability, in the economic and social components of sustainability as well.”

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