Only a year after Castanea moved into Chestnut Hill, they stumbled upon two dilapidated apartment buildings large enough to house all their community under one roof – with plenty of room left over! They immediately saw its potential as our home, but also dreamed of being able to offer affordable housing to our neighbors. Two of our founding partners bought the property, and we have invested much of this past year in developing the project. These apartments they purchased have long been known for crime, vandalism and poor living standards, so Castanea is eager to transform the hillside into a beautiful and healthy model of community.
Initially, Castanea planned to rehabilitate the two apartments into one large complex. Aside from the units that were to house the members of the Castanea community, there were going to be some common spaces and ten affordable housing units. Castanea was already in the process of forming working agreements with local homeless and refugee agencies that were in need of safe, affordable housing for the people they serve. Also, there were to be two units reserved for Trevecca University students, where students could live and work with the community during semester-long internships. Living alongside their neighbors, they hoped to offer a fresh example of a mixed housing community coupled with a commitment to sustainable living.
In efforts to build an ecologically sound building, many sustainable design elements were initially incorporated. They planned to encapsulate the apartments with straw bale walls, a green roof, and growing walls, keeping the utility rates low for the resource-challenged residents who would live there. Runoff water from the roof was to be caught in large cisterns, supplying the gardens and orchards, and all the residents would have the chance to grow and learn about healthy food.
Unfortunately Castanea was unable to secure financing for the entire scope of the rehabilitation, which was going to cost almost 900,000. They have attempted to find partners who could help realize their vision, and have some potential collaborations which could rehab part of the project with federal grant money. With the pressure to satisfy the codes department, however, they were forced to make a critical decision in late 2011 whether or not to complete half of the project, one building, with their own personal finances and investment – or give up. In the end, after discernment and prayer, it was a consensus decision to move forward, and they are now in the process of taking out a loan for that first building.
This first building will house the members of the community, and will also feature some common space similar to the original design. Castanea hopes to find investors or a partner to help realize their dreams for the 2nd building if the current potential collaboration does not pan out. It is their hope, though it has been a slow and rocky road, that it will all be worth it in the end.