Participants in nonprofit Black Women Build-Baltimore (BWBB) handle every step of renovations from reframing to installing plumbing. Once slated for demolition, the houses were initially valued at $6,000 to $11,000. After renovations, they’ve been appraised for $80,000. Courtesy Schaun Champion Newly built houses, with their sizable carbon footprints, don’t just contribute to climate change. For many Americans they’re also too expensive—a bitter irony in cities rife with vacant buildings and record evictions. Given the urgency of both issues, projects that retrofit livable housing into existing low-carbon shells (the initial embodied carbon was spent long ago) might be worth a closer look. We searched for them and came across a handful that promise a cure for housing insecurity and excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Activist builder Shelley Halstead and architects Peter Birkholz and Katie Swenson stand out as champions of adaptive reuse and renovations as tools for providing more and better housing. Their plans range from makeovers of aging public housing to the careful recycling of one boarded-up single-family property at a time in historically undervalued and devastated neighborhoods. “Homeownership is how you enter the middle class,” says Halstead. “It’s how you gain wealth and pass on wealth.” That potential for […]


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