Who Can Afford to Live in a “Sustainable” Development?

Who Can Afford to Live in a “Sustainable” Development?

A few weeks back I traveled to Loreto, Baja California Sur, the quaint home of Baja’s first mission. There I visited the Villages of Loreto Bay, eleven miles south of the town. Loreto Bay is a mixed-use, new urbanist development that, at buildout, will house some 6,000 homes, plus commercial areas, a golf course, community gathering areas, and more. So far, about 400 homes are complete, and Peter Clark, the development’s technical director of sustainability, speaks highly of the project’s environmental measures that include renewable resource use and mangrove restoration. What is less mentioned, however, is the pricing of the homes, which begin at $300,000 but sell now, on average, for twice that amount.

Villages of Loreto Bay.
The Villages of Loreto Bay are nestled between the Sea of Cortez and mangrove estuaries under restoration, and steep mountains. Photo by Simmons Buntin.

The question isn’t so much why “sustainability” costs so much, but rather: Can any project where the average worker cannot afford to live actually be called sustainable? It’s an old issue in the West. Few 9-to-5 workers can afford to live in the affluent ski resort towns of Aspen and Vail, for example. Closer to home, there are a number of suburban and infill projects in Tucson that label themselves sustainable, including Civano and the Mercado District of Menlo Park. And there’s no question that these projects implement measures of sustainability, such as green construction, solar power use, and extensive neighborhood involvement.

Environment and culture are only two corners of the sustainability triangle, however. Economics is the third, and while the projects may be economically viable for the developers and may, as in Denver’s Lower Downtown area, spark economic rebirth for the neighborhood and beyond, they are still too expensive for many local families.

Houses on Loreto Bay's main street.
Houses along Loreto Bay’s main street display stunning architecture and amenities; but what price “sustainability?” Photo by Simmons Buntin.

In Loreto Bay, the developers plan to construct an adjacent village where housing will be affordable for the average Mexican worker. The homes will be much smaller, the amenities constrained, of course. But in Tucson? Nearby neighborhoods offer less expensive housing, yet so far-even given traditional “affordable housing” percentages on many new projects-the homes remain beyond reach for most.

Tags: environmenttucson

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