One of the Mueller neighborhood’s newest apartment complexes is hiding a lot in plain sight.
The Jordan at Mueller from Foundation Communities opened last fall with 132 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units for families. It’s down the street from the Mueller neighborhood H-E-B, Dell Children’s Medical Center and the Thinkery children’s museum, as well as across from film studios.
That’s what made this a perfect spot for a Foundation Communities project. The Austin Film Society didn’t want a neighboring multifamily building to have a parking garage where residents could look over into the Austin Studios’ lot and see what is being filmed, and Foundation Communities could not afford the cost of building a parking garage.
The Jordan was "a miracle," says Walter Moreau, the executive director of Foundation Communities.
The property is part of the Cool House Tour, the annual tour from Austin Energy Green Building and the Texas Solar Energy Society that takes guests through homes that are built with environmentally friendly techniques and energy savings. This year the tour moved from an in-person tour in June to a virtual tour Sept. 27.
Why the miracle of the Jordan? Foundation Communities had been looking for a property in the Mueller neighborhood for 12 years, but it hadn’t worked out previously, in part because of financing and the need for that parking garage.
Foundation Communities is able to fund its affordable housing program in part through government grants, programs and tax credits. It now has or is finishing 27 communities in the Austin area with more than 4,000 apartments both for families and formerly homeless single people.
Some of the parameters of the state tax credits recently changed, and suddenly this property qualified. It met the area poverty level threshold, it fell within a limited distance from downtown, it had the support of then-state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who grew up in the area, and it had the support of the neighborhood, which was developed out of the old Mueller airport land with the stated goal of having affordable housing integrated into the community.
The biggest difference between this property and other Foundation Communities properties is the proximity to downtown, says Megan Matthews, the director of design at Foundation Communities.
"Our portfolio has pushed us out farther," she says, because of the need to make the projects affordable.
The site was a nice arrangement because at the same time that Foundation Communities was looking for land in the area, the neighborhood was looking to fulfill its goal of a new affordable housing project. "It’s a win-win for us," Matthews says.
Matthews is excited for the residents because of where it’s located. A new park and a new school are planned for that newer area of the neighborhood. Residents have access to walking and biking trails and shopping.
Tom Hatch of Hatch and Ulland Owen Architects, who designed the project, says one of the unexpected surprises is the view of downtown from some of the third- and fourth-floor units.
The Jordan filled its apartments within three months, and Foundation Communities has now capped its waiting list. The apartments rent for $805-$1,365.
When it comes to making this a green project, "a lot of what is on the Jordan is the standard for us," Matthews says.
That includes things like R-21 cellulose fiber insulation in the cavity of the building and R-6 insulation on the exterior; high-performance windows; ceramic tile flooring throughout; 20 SEER heating and air conditioning systems; all LED lighting; hybrid electric heat pump for water heating; low flow and ultra low flow plumbing features; no or low volatile organic compounds paint; all native or adaptive drought-tolerant plants; bicycle parking; and storage.
While all the projects are fitted for solar panels and for electric vehicle parking, this one had those finished out. It also was able to tap into the purple water pipe to use reclaimed water for irrigation.
The materials aren’t always the most expensive, but they are energy efficient or create good air quality.
The project earned the LEED Gold certification and five stars from Austin Energy Green Build program.
"We’re trying to be as green as we can, but we’re smarter about the choices we make," Moreau says.
That means making calculated decisions about how green is too green.
Foundation Communities learned this in its M Station Project, which earned a Platinum LEED designation, the highest one, when it was built 10 years ago, but the sophisticated air conditioning system wasn’t ideal in the long term because of the maintenance.
"Ten years ago, our green philosophy was to push the envelope and try out some things that were cutting edge," Moreau says.
Now Foundation Communities goes for practical and cost effective while still trying to have a low carbon footprint.
That means finding locations that are close to transit and looking at affordability as not only just the rent but also about the utility bills as well.
The advantage Foundation Communities has over other apartment complex builders is it’s in the project for the long term, which means that it can put solar panels on its rooftops and know it’s going to get back the investment 10 years later.
"It’s an incredibly financially responsible organization," Hatch says. Part of that is building structures for longevity. "They’re outliving me times 10," he says.
Like all the newer Foundation Communities properties, the green features are ones that Foundation Communities is "not willing to compromise (on)," Matthews says, even though "it’s above and beyond what a multifamily developer would do."
For example, the higher SEER HVAC system saves residents and Foundation Communities on utility bills as well as helps mitigate mold and mildew inside. The ceramic tile might cost more, but it’s easy to keep clean, and Foundation Communities isn’t having to replace it every time one family moves out and another one moves in.
The design of the Jordan is somewhat different from some of the previous properties because it’s actually a combination of some other Foundation Communities projects. Matthews thinks of it as one big building connected by walkways, but it’s actually seven different buildings, each with a different exterior. That was a request from the Mueller neighborhood.
Hatch sees it as seven different modules. He took other Foundation Communities projects he’s worked on and integrated them into the design of this one.
"You see the character here and there intertwined with walkways," Hatch says.
Even though Matthews was skeptical about having each building be aesthetically different, she says, it ended up breaking up the monotony and helps break down the scale of four-story buildings.
"It’s kind of like a village," Matthews says. "It really strongly helps folks identify home."
The project was also sited on the property to minimize the number of residents who can see into the studio lot, and bamboo has been planted to form a visual barrier.
When it comes to the ultimate test of whether green building does matter, it’s the residents who benefit.
While Moreau says Foundation Communities does hear from residents from time to time that they appreciate the value and ethics of the green building that went into the places where they live, he says, "the majority of our residents are focused on day-to-day living. They may not know why the electric bill is low."
"We don’t really highlight it as much as we could or should," Matthews says. "We just do it because we think it’s the thing that should be done."