April 2013 | A replicable model for revitalizing distressed and aging housing, Aeon's Sienna Green is a sustainable development with two phases: the rehabilitation of 120 existing one-bedroom apartments and the creation of 50 new, primarily two- and three-bedroom apartments. Sienna Green preserves much-needed affordable housing in suburban Roseville, MN by transforming formerly dilapidated structures and poorly-used land into a thriving, healthy residential community.

The site once housed Har Mar Apartments, an underutilized 1960s-era complex stressed by vacancies, criminal activity, and deferred maintenance. Aeon acquired the property seeking to preserve affordable housing near Roseville's employment centers, mass transit, and schools. The property was renamed Sienna Green to reflect the development's sustainable features and garden-like nature.

Through a partnership with the University of Minnesota's Center for Sustainable Building Research (CSBR) and the Center for Energy & the Environment, Sienna Green was selected as a pilot project for the Minnesota Sustainable Housing Initiative. By employing energy efficiency and sustainable building materials and installation techniques, the initiative aims to identify best practices in sustainably developing/redeveloping housing. Sienna Green will be used as a model to guide future renovation of multi-family housing developments.

Because Har Mar was composed of five nearly identical buildings, the site allowed researchers to analyze how building materials impacted energy efficiency. For example, the group elected to install conventional dark-colored roofs on two buildings and light-colored roofs on three others to study the effects on heating and cooling costs.

Other improvements included adding insulation to the roof to prevent heat loss and using batt, rather than rigid, insulation in the exterior walls. This ensures the buildings will continue to breathe and avoid trapped moisture, which is a concern when rehabbing existing structures. Trapped moisture can lead to mold/mildew, a potential health hazard for residents. Batt insulation was also added to interior walls to reduce sound between units, giving residents more privacy.

Additional sustainability features included:

  • In-unit adjustable heating and cooling.
  • EnergyStar appliances.
  • Low-flow plumbing fixtures.
  • High-efficiency windows.
  • Low-VOC flooring and non- or low-VOC finishes; carpet tiling made of recycled content.

To prevent moisture problems in garden level units, the ground was re-graded. The building foundations were excavated, and new exterior moisture barriers were added below grade to ensure the buildings remain healthy into the future.

Aeon was able to construct the new apartment building and green space for its residents by replacing the property's flat-surface parking lot with underground parking. Rain gardens, walking paths, and child-friendly spaces now create a pedestrian-friendly environment. The rain gardens and green space also absorb and filter most of the storm water on-site, as part of Aeon's storm water management plan.

As energy data become available for the five rehabilitated buildings on the Sienna Green site, the design team will be able to determine which techniques and materials perform best. Aeon hopes Sienna Green will provide guidance to developers nationwide seeking to preserve and rehabilitate suburban housing stock for long-term sustainability and affordability.

Most of Sienna Green's apartments are affordable to households earning 50% or less of the area median income (AMI). For a family of four, that's earning $41,150 per year. The property also includes 30 units reserved for households earning at or below 30% of AMI ($24,700, for a family of four); 20 market-rate units; and 10 units reserved for individuals transitioning out of homelessness.

Impacting Lives

Residents of Sienna Green, Hodan Abdulkadir & Her Son Abdirahmand, pose for a picture.According to Hodan Abdulkadir, Sienna Green has been the perfect place for her family. Her husband Younis, who works in business management, has spent much of the past year caring for his extended family, including supporting his sister and her five children after the death of her husband. Hodan spends most of her time caring for her 7-year-old son, Abdirahmand, who is severely autistic. Younis and Hodan pulled him out of school to provide more specialized education and support in their home. "This place is peaceful. It's a healthy and clean place to raise a child with special needs," says Hodan. With an active son, the family makes use of the building's fitness room and the nearby park. Hodan also appreciates living close to needed services. "Stores and resources, like the Minnesota Autism Center are closer," she says. Finally, Hodan says, the community at Sienna Green makes it special. She explains that it is part of her culture to share food with friends and guests. There are plenty of opportunities – community potlucks and other occasions– to share life together with neighbors and family.