Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry is using solar power to house the homeless

Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) has turned to solar power in its latest mission to ensure everyone has a safe, warm, and affordable place to live.

When lack of affordable housing is the biggest barrier to a permanent home, LMM has partnered with PadSmart, a Westlake-based energy-efficient housing enterprise, and father-son team Packy Hyland, founder of Hyland Software, and Dan Hyland to develop a solar powered house that will keep utility bills low and truly be an affordable home. 

Sering says PadSmart’s niche is building energy-efficient homes, which translates into affordable homes. “Their designs include integrated solar roofing with really tight, extreme insulation,” he says. “They have LED lighting, and everything is electric.” 

The team is currently working with the Cuyahoga Land Bank and Cleveland Land Bank to secure land near the 2100 Men’s Shelter on Lakeside Avenue, says LMM vice president of housing & shelter Michael Sering. He says ideally, they would like to two parcels that could maximize sun exposure—allowing them to possibly start a second house immediately after the first one.

“Even though we haven't accomplished the pilot one yet, we're excited about where this could go for us,” he says.

LMM plans to have the first house, a 1,600-square foot, four-unit efficiency protype, completed in a year.

“The structure will be a 1,600 square-foot building, complete with kitchenettes and bathrooms, and designed to be cost effective, comfortable, permanent housing the tenants can each call home,” he explains. “The structure will be a panelized, steel-framed multi-unit building comprising four single-occupant homes.”

Each 400-square foot unit will cost about $425 a month in rent—about one-third lower than fair market rent rates, Sering says—with the solar panels powering about 90% of the energy needed to power utilities.

“Market rate for a studio, I believe is $720, which is out of reach for a person at really low income,” says Sering. “We're really trying to keep it at 30% of income. It's the definition of affordability, and that's what we're focusing on. This is an affordable, new build. And the really cool part is that because the solar is built into the operation, into the design, it keeps the operating costs affordable into the future.”

PadSmart’s designs include integrated solar roofing with really tight, extreme insulationPadSmart’s designs include integrated solar roofing with really tight, extreme insulationThe living units are energy positive, producing at least as much energy as they consume, which delivers sustained cost-savings to occupants while minimizing environmental impact.

The goal of these features is to get as close as possible to a zero on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index, resulting in both minimal negative impact on the environment and minimal utilities costs—which translates into short and long-term savings for the residents.

Sering says PadSmart is known for designing homes that are extremely low on the HERS index. “Old houses are not efficient—they score a terrible 150 [on the index],” he explains. “A new baseline for a standard new house is maybe around 100. The lower your score, the more money you save and the more energy efficient you are. If you reach zero, you're producing the same amount of energy you're consuming.”

Sering says PadSmart takes it a step further. “The crazy part is [PadSmart’s] first house achieved a -46—meaning it produces way more energy than it consumes,” he says. “Our house, I don't think we're going to get a -46, but if we get a zero or even close to 20, it would be fantastic. They are really great partners and they're excited to be part of our housing as a solution to homelessness [plans].”

Sering says when the apartment unit is about a month away from completion, the 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter staff will determine who simply need affordable housing, as opposed to also needing additional support or social services and want to live in the new housing.

“If we have four people, bang, we got our four people,” he says. “If we have more than that, we'll probably just do a random drawing from the people that want to do it.”

LMM would then help set up the four residents in their new homes. “We would plan for them to be eligible for rapid rehousing voucher, which would likely pay their rent for up to the first year, giving them time to get it together, and they could pick up their rent on their own after that,” Sering explains. “That's the model. One of the most important tools our county has for getting people out of shelter into housing. This will be consistent with that and philosophy.”

Several area partners who believe in changing the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness, and potentially providing a solution that will increase the number of people who can move out of shelters and achieve self-sufficiency in Cleveland, are helping fund this project.

Funding partners for the pilot project include Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Cuyahoga County Department of Housing & Community Development, Cleveland Lumber, and The Thatcher Family Fund.

Angela Abenaim, health equity director with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, says the partnership immediately made sense to her organization. “At Anthem, we’re focused on working on health barriers throughout the state,” she says. “We know that housing is a key component to good health, and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry is truly a leader in that space.”

Abenaim adds that she sees the negative health outcomes in people experiencing homelessness and in families experiencing housing instability with children who must move three times in a year.

“Housing is health,” she says. “Without housing, health is secondary. We have to create homes, not just housing.”

LMM’s other housing efforts include the Breaking New Ground project—the plan to build 20 houses by 2024—is on track, Sering says.

“The first three families from when we launched have all surpassed a year of stable housing, and that was one of our big goals—to be out of shelter and in housing for a year, and counting, is awesome. We have a total of five families housed and an additional seven units under renovation that should be up and running by July 1. And we have three more in the pipeline, and that will get us to 15 of our 20 goal by the end of the year.”

With LMM’s Shared Housing initiative, the organization now has a total of 12 residents living in two duplexes. “Everybody has their own room and their own lease, and we're at 100% occupancy,” Sering says. “And we've only had 5% return to shelter since we started this program [in 2015].”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.