High Sustainability, Low Cost: Green Living for Low-Income Families

article image
Photo by Bruce Hampton
Boston’s Erie-Ellington neighborhood provides green housing to low-income occupants.


Dorchester, a gritty Boston neighborhood currently undergoing revitalization. Qualifying tenants can rent one- to four-bedroom duplex or triplex units starting at $288 per month.

Changing perceptions

Residents of subsidized housing often get the short end of the stick, with poor-quality materials and shoddy construction. Erie-Ellington’s fifty units demonstrate that housing projects can be affordable and healthy.

Clean living

The houses feature low-VOC carpeting and paint, natural linoleum, and airtight wood-frame windows for natural lighting.

Sustainable subsidy

Framing was done off-site by computer, resulting in less waste and better quality control. The cementitious clapboard ­minimizes tree use and lasts for decades.

Cutting costs

“‘Eco’ can mean ecological as well as economic,” says architect Bruce Hampton of the Hickory Consortium in Cambridge. Hampton kept costs down by using local products and labor. Residents in these well-insulated dwellings save on utility bills with energy efficient appliances and lighting and low-flow toilets, showerheads, and faucets.

Rebuilding community

Bay windows, porches, dormer roofs, and earthy colors are cozy touches in an area that was once overrun with crime and graffiti. The development is sparking renovation all around it, and its built-in green spaces encourage interaction among neighbors.