RCIF Loans Support the Environment in City and Country
Oxford Plaza Apartments Bring Green to City Living for Low-Income Residents
Imagine living in a subsidized housing building where, as tenant Marcella Murphy describes it, “things get fixed before you know they’re broken.” Imagine a community in that building that includes children and elders, young working families, adults with physical or mental challenges, all of them representing a broad array of ethnicity and religious beliefs. Imagine that building situated close to public transportation, with the public library, post office and city hall right down the street. And, to literally top it all off, imagine this building with a rooftop community garden, constructed with green building materials and energy efficient systems that lower residents’ energy bills and provide healthy indoor air quality.
If you can imagine such a place, then you are visualizing Oxford Plaza Apartments in Berkeley, CA, one of the newest affordable apartment communities developed and managed by Resources for Community Development (RCD), a RCIF borrower. The solar panels on Oxford Plaza’s roof (the site of its recent “Up On the Roof” fund-raiser supporting tenant programs) significantly supplement the boilers that heat the apartments and common areas via a state-of-the-art hydronic radiant system. As a result, the entire building’s carbon footprint is lowered, while tenants see dramatically reduced utility bills. Said resident Karma Smart, “For a few months I wasn’t paying anything for electricity, then even when we had a bill it ranged from 10 to 20 dollars.”
“Our highest mission is to provide affordable housing,” said RCD Deputy Director Linda Mackey, “and one of our overarching philosophies is to build as green as possible.” RCIF’s loan, she explained, provides RCD with working capital that allows the development corporation to pursue new opportunities. “The development process is long,” Mackey explained. “Eventually these expenses can be recouped, but it’s the up-front costs, such as paying an architect, going through the approval process, purchase of land – that’s the sort of thing that working capital is really crucial for.”
Targeting tenants whose income ranges from 20 to 60 percent of the average median income for the area, RCD utilizes an integrated model for renting. “That means we have families moving in,” said Mackey, “along with couples, and single individuals who are earning a low wage or perhaps are on SSI. We have stories of people who have been homeless.” Special needs units are part of the picture, for physically or mentally challenged residents who can live on their own or with the help of a service provider.
For all the residents, Marcella Murphy explained, even though there are 90-plus units, “there’s a sort of small town feeling. We all know what kids, for example, live in the building. We have a wonderful resident manager who knows everyone.” Part of RCD’s mission is to offer programs and services that will benefit residents, whether that is access to the building’s computer lab, educational programs, or participation in the rooftop container garden.
Karma Smart, who has a master’s degree in cultural anthropology and social transformation and lives at Oxford with her acupuncturist husband John Kokko and their son Bhakti, four, was elected as the president of the small (but growing) gardening group. “We have tomatoes, collard greens, lettuces, herbs, strawberries, peppers, squash and green beans,” she said. “Everything is organic. The challenge is trying to find the best time so people can participate. But we are growing for the whole community. Anyone can take anything they can use. We just wanted to take advantage of the space we have and learn and have fun.
“I feel like the building is giving people pride,” she continued. “We have a lot of benefits… I’m excited about what this building represents.”
To learn more about Resources for Community Development, visit their website at www.rcdev.org
How Green Is My Fertilizer? Farm Power Brings Organic Waste Full Circle
When brothers Daryl and Kevin Maas, environmental entrepreneurs based in the Puget Sound area of Washington, had a vision for a business that would help family farms remain viable, only one bank would back them. Now that they have successfully begun to translate their vision into reality, other banks want to come on board. But ShoreBank Pacific, one of RCIF’s borrowers, has earned the loyalty of the Maas brothers. “ShoreBank Pacific was with us from the beginning,” said Daryl.
Their company, Farm Power, uses anaerobic manure digesters to recycle dairy farm and local food waste into renewable energy. “The simplest way to look at a digester is really like a big stomach,” explained Daryl. Farm Power leases a small part of a dairy farm. The manure from the cows, along with organic food wastes, is processed by heat in the digester which, he said, “uses the same bacteria that are in your stomach or a cow’s stomach. The bacteria eat the little bits of food and when they do that they emit methane gas, which is the main ingredient in natural gas. So we’re creating a living, breathing natural gas well.
“Instead of releasing the methane into the environment,” he emphasized, “we’re capturing it in a useful manner.” The electricity generated by the methane is sold back to the local power grid; liquid waste from the process is given back to the farmer as a cleaner, less odorous, fertilizer. And, said Daryl, “By the time we process the manure it’s broken down and no longer has the nasty parts that would make it dangerous, so we end up with a fluffy mulching material which the farmer uses for the cows to sleep on.” The first two dairy farmers Farm Power has contracted with, said Daryl, save about $10,000 a month simply because they no longer have to buy wood shavings for their cows to sleep on.
Having grown up in the rural community, the Maas brothers firmly believe there are innovative ways to make family farms efficient and financially viable while improving the environment. Turning that belief into reality takes fellow believers, and, said Daryl, “ShoreBank Pacific is really what makes the company happen.” Along with RCIF’s lending support through ShoreBank Pacific, Farm Power secured a USDA Renewable Energy grant for their first project in Rexville. Farm Power can also offer shares in the company to private investors, enhancing the financing picture while offering a stake in renewable energy to the public. Their second project expands the environmental vision further. Farm Power Lynden will generate 750 kW of renewable electricity for sale to the grid, while also providing waste thermal energy to heat a nearby four-acre greenhouse. “For about 8 months of the year, there will be no fossil fuel needed for the greenhouse,” said Daryl. The brothers hope to expand the business to dairy farms across western Washington state, and are exploring opportunities in Oregon and California.
Farm Power fits in perfectly with ShoreBank Pacific’s commitment to renewable and alternative energies, said VP for EcoDeposits/Cash Management Laurie Landeros. It is one of the four key areas that make up the bank’s “sustainable banking” philosophy. The other areas include specialty agriculture, which is “anything from the organic farmer to the market that sells their goods and all the links in between,” said Landeros. “Then, green building, as those principles apply to the environment. And, what I call Main Street. That’s ordinary small business whose owners are trying to mitigate or reduce their environmental and community impacts.” Unlike larger, conventional banks, ShoreBank Pacific’s full-time scientist, said Landeros, is not on staff to brand projects as too risky, but to actively consult with and help innovative borrowers like the Maas brothers. “Not only do we understand the science and the (real level of) risk,” said Laurie Landeros, ” but we’re excited about the science and the projects that people are undertaking.”
E&Co Supports Entrepreneurs In Clean Energy Across the Globe
In Ghana, entrepreneur Suraj Wahab has found a way to make a living while improving the lives of thousands and making a positive impact on the environment. “The World Health Organization reports that 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity,” explained Meredith Elliott, Strategic Relationships Officer with E&Co, a RCIF borrower. “And more than two billion people continue to cook with “dirty fuels” such as firewood, charcoal and animal waste. That second number – people cooking with dirty fuels – is actually going up, which is astonishing.”
The impact is devastating. Said Elliott, “More people die of indoor air pollution than from malaria. So in Ghana, Suraj started a business, named Torola, building and selling fuel-efficient cookstoves that are 40 percent cleaner.” Most people in Ghana cannot afford to replace their charcoal stoves with gas, so with E&Co’s help, Suraj developed a business plan to not only manufacture cleaner, safer stoves, but to make them affordable and readily available. After an initial investment of $70,000, more than 20,000 stoves were sold. Along with the health benefits, families found they would have to spend less on fuel.
To date, Torola has provided this cleaner energy product to 35,000 households, offset 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and employed over 200 employees.
E&Co leverages loans like the one from RCIF to help entrepreneurs worldwide establish clean energy businesses. Having made more than 250 debt and equity investments in developing countries over the last 15 years, ranging from $25,000 to $1,000,000, E&Co has supported innovators in 25 countries. “We are bridging a gap in the marketplace,” said Elliott. “These are entrepreneurs who cannot get capital in the markets that we work in.”
The write-off rate for the loans is a low 8 percent, she explained, “because we provide technical assistance to the borrowers in areas like inventory control and accounting. We are serial investors, so if we start with an enterprise and they are doing well across the “triple bottom line,” financial, social/economic and environmental, we continue to work with them. And without these investments from religious organizations, we would not be able to keep doing what we are doing.”
To learn more about E&Co and the triple bottom line, visit www.eandco.net