RS EDEN’s model for sustainable design in affordable housing

April 2022

RS EDEN is a not-for-profit, supportive housing development and service organization that has a profound connection with Minneapolis neighborhoods.

In the 1970s, the company recognized a gap in opportunity for people with substance use disorders, especially those returning from wartime.

They created programs and residential communities to help reincorporate individuals impacted by post-war addiction into society. RS EDEN has led many people along the journey of recovery to enhance their future success — not as addicts, but as people who deserve support and compassion.  

Bridging socio-economic and environmental gaps

Today, the development company upholds their mission of assisting underserved communities. Out of 13 apartment buildings, 12 are comprised of 100% unstably housed individuals. RS EDEN is one of the leaders in development for tackling racial and income inequalities that systemically keep BIPOC and low-income populations at a disadvantage. As an added bonus, they ensure their buildings are sustainably designed to decrease negative environmental impacts.

RS Eden's latest residential project, Amber Apartments, received Minneapolis Green Cost Share funding for a solar array installation.

Lois Mueller, director of housing development at RS EDEN explained that Amber is an $18 million dollar housing initiative developed on Hiawatha Avenue, in South Minneapolis. It consists of 81 total units, 22 of which are for unsheltered individuals in need of subsidized or free rent.

One unit is for a live-in caretaker, and the remaining units are efficiencies renting for about $580. In a city where the average cost of rent is $1,635, the cost of living at Amber Apartments is designed “to meet the needs of the working poor folks of Minneapolis.” 

Not your average landlord

There is an income maximum to qualify for housing in these units to ensure that they are supporting their target population — people with unstable living situations and low-incomes. RS EDEN does not require a credit check for tenants to apply and move in to their units. To increase accessibility, RS EDEN does not turn away people with a moderate criminal history, understanding that sometimes people must make tough decisions that do not align with the law in order to survive.

At Amber Apartments, the developers have ensured that their tenants should never pay more than 30% of their income towards rent.

When Mueller was asked about other alternative housing options for their tenants, she stated that there are, “Virtually none. That’s why we built this place. RS EDEN screens people in rather than landlords who screen people out.”

At RS EDEN, they believe that all people should have access to safe and affordable housing that promotes the growth and success of their tenants as leaders and individuals.  

RS EDEN screens people in rather than landlords who screen people out.

Lois Mueller, director of housing development

Where does clean energy fit?

RS EDEN’s mission does not end there. While they tackle huge socioeconomic injustices, they also work to promote environmental justice. The company recognizes that they must do their part to uphold environmental stewardship and raise the standard for development groups and landlords. They knew that solar panels were a must for this property to decrease their carbon footprint. While solar energy does help increase energy savings and decrease energy burden for low-income people, Lois Mueller mentioned that “The project was not about saving money so much, it was about saving the environment.”  

The company also worked extensively with the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) on Amber Apartments to ensure they had the best energy savings and equipment for things like heating, cooling,  and lighting.

They met all the sustainability and efficiency requirements, while also ensuring that the building was as physically accessible as possible.  

In an anecdote, Mueller recalled hearing about the importance of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at new developments, and they also realized the potential for increased accessibility and environmental consciousness by installing two EV chargers in their parking lot.

Obstacles and Future

The team at RS EDEN faced many obstacles to reach their goal of moving tenants in by the end of 2021, including labor shortages as staff managed COVID-19 quarantines and isolation. It was even more important to provide housing for tenants during the extreme winter weather in Minnesota that left many unsheltered people without adequate materials to combat the cold.  

RS EDEN is a housing model that proves development and environmental justice can work together to support individuals who have historically received little to no support. They are leaders in the future of sustainable development, which can both protect the environment and provide a safe and supportive space for all people.  

Solar Array Size: 38.5 kW-DC

Project Cost: $131,900

Minneapolis Green Cost Share Funding: $16,373

Annual Solar Production Estimate: 46,781 kWh/year

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