At Gov’t-Funded 'Green' Apartments, Teens Police Their Parents' Recycling Habits

By Elizabeth Harrington | October 31, 2011 | 11:50am EDT

( – A non-profit affordable housing developer that spent $33 million for “green upgrades” to an Alexandria, Va., apartment complex, also administers a “Teens Going Green” program at the site where, among other things, teens take the green agenda “back home,” and are “policing their parents” to be more environmentally conscious.

At an event to unveil the “green upgrades”--$8.2 million of which was provided through a federal tax credit program--Mark James, the senior real estate development officer for the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC), explained the “Teens Going Green” program.

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“It’s so important that if you’re going to build green that everyone in the facility lives green, and that means teaching all of our students, our residents, to really pro-actively start to take on sustainability as a part of their lives,” James told at the Oct. 20 ribbon cutting ceremony at the Buckman Road Apartments in Alexandria.

“We do that a lot of times by starting with our teenagers," he said. "They have the most energy, they are always excited and active, actively being able to learn not only what we want to do for sustainability but they can take it back home.”

Sod/soil roofing (in background) at the upgraded Buckman Road Apartments in Alexandria, Va. (Photo: Starr.) then asked, “One of your employees described the program as getting the kids involved to change the behavior of the adults that are set in their ways. Do you think that’s an issue? What do you feel about that?”

James said: “Sustainability is a, is really, requires practice, sort of repeating the good steps over and over again. And we’re finding that our teenagers are actually policing their parents, with recycling for example, and saying, ‘Well, don’t throw that can into this trash can, throw it over here in the recycling bin.’  So we’re finding it to be very helpful because we’re finding that our parents are coming back saying that their children are just guiding them in the direction they should go.”

From the $33 million for the green upgrades, $8.2 million was made available through federal low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), which the CPDC as a developer was able to obtain through the Virginia Housing Development Authority. The credits were then sold to Capital One Bank to help finance the upgrades at the Buckman Road Apartments facility.

Capital One Bank also invested $13.6 million in construction costs and a permanent loan to the property, for a total of $22.5 million in the project.  The additional $11.2 million was allocated by the CPDC from miscellaneous sources.

Solar panels on roof of upgraded Buckman Road Apartments in Alexandria, Va. (Photo: Starr.)

The non-profit CPDC, on its 990 tax form for 2010, states that its “exempt purpose is to create & preserve financially sound, socially responsible, decent, safe and affordable rental housing for low-income individuals.”

According to a CPDC press release, the “Teens Going Green” program “encourages teens to take a lead role in teaching positive environmental habits to their families and neighbors.”

In a May 11 “Letter to our Community,” members of the group wrote, “Mother nature is very upset with how people treat her. Recycling is something everyone can do to make her smile. It is also important to recycle because not only does it keep our community clean by reducing landfills, but it can help to create more jobs. … We hope that you will continue to support our initiative by using your new blue bins to recycle.”

Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the apartment site. Concerning the “Teens Going Green” program, which is run out of the community center at complex, Moran told, “It’s teaching teenagers to be conscientious about the environment.  That’s where you have to start.”

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“As a culture, we only stopped cigarette smoking when we got into the schools, so that young people stopped smoking and admonished their parents,” he said.  “Now -- not all of them, but it really worked.  We’ve now got to work with young people to become more conscientious about the use of our environment, so there can continue to, to be a healthy environment for future generations.”

The teens “program is focusing on not only teaching those students about living sustainably, but it also is teaching them to go out into the community and help teach other residents as well,” the CPDC’s James told  “So, whether that’s dealing with water retention, not using as much potable water, reducing electricity, learning about nutrition and gardening programs that we’re setting up here on the property, or just how solar panels work.  We try to teach them all of those various facets of sustainability and let them use their energy to get that word out into the community.”

As well as the environmental program for teens, the CPDC also oversees “place-based community development programs” at some of its properties.  “Early resident services have grown into comprehensive community development programs that focus on supplying the tools and resources needed for residents to effect positive change in there professional, academic, financial, and personal lives and to participate in civic engagement within their larger community,” according to a CPDC brochure on its programs.

Rain barrel for community garden at the Buckman Road Apartments in Alexandria, Va. (Photo: Starr.)

“For change to affect the larger community,” the brochure states, “residents have to be committed to change within their own lives and the life of their community.”  The CPDC cites resident-initiated organized voter registration drives as one example.

James also spoke during the ceremony, where he remarked, “So everyone repeat after me, Green is good all the time, and then fill in the blank, and all the time Green is good."

“So now I know which one of you go to church," he said.  "At my church you’ll hear that except we replace green with God."

At the apartment complex, the new community center also provides job training, English as a Second Language, financial literacy and student enrichment programs.

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