Tackling the Hidden Cost of Energy for Truly Affordable Housing

January 20, 2021

Energy-efficient Construction to Help Lower Housing Costs

Costs for housing have risen sharply in most Louisiana parishes since 2010, with incomes hardly keeping up. Every fifth homeowner and most renters are now what’s called “cost-burdened” or “rent-stressed” as they spend more than a third of their total income on housing. Importantly, this includes utilities—energy bills (gas and electric), water, and sewer service.

Louisiana now ranks fifth in the nation in rent stress, according to the most recent Louisiana Housing Needs Assessment, carried out by LSU researchers. But as a driver of research and development for the state, LSU is also working on solutions to the affordable housing crisis in innovative ways. Isabelina Nahmens, professor of industrial engineering at LSU, recently received support from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a practical and affordable modular construction system for multi-family, energy-efficient housing.

“What’s remarkable about this project is how it’s combining energy-efficiency and affordable housing at scale,” said Alison Donovan, senior consultant at VEIC. “We’re not talking about super-insulated and high-performance homes built for a million dollars. It’s about bringing the benefits of that technology to affordable housing.”

Nahmens is working with VEIC and industry partners to build homes that are at least 50% more energy-efficient—both in construction and once in use—than current code, at no additional cost.

“Low-cost isn’t enough,” Nahmens said. “Homes must be energy-efficient to be truly affordable, and this has huge implications for health, too.”

Parish map of rent increases

Average rent increases, including energy bills, in Louisiana parishes since 2010 underscore the need for real affordability.

– Elsa Hahne / LSU

“Solving Louisiana’s affordable housing crisis will only be accomplished through thoughtful innovation and unique collaboration from our public and private sector partners. We are happy to continue our work with LSU, which represents a genuine statewide objective.”

- E. Keith Cunningham, Jr., executive director of the Louisiana Housing Corporation