Prof pitches new approach to affordable housing

Prefab panels planned for use by the new co-op.

The panels he brought to the City Council meeting may not look like much, but Dick Co says they are one of the keys to his plan for an Evanston Development Cooperative that would build energy-efficient, affordable housing while creating jobs in the community.


Dick Co.

Co, an assistant professor of chemistry at Northwestern University, says he plans to leave that job soon to work full time on setting up the cooperative. He says its first efforts would involve building accessory dwelling units in Evanston neighborhoods.

Co was the faculty director for a team of Northwestern students that last year won awards in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon for the energy-efficient house they'd built on campus and transported to Denver for the competition.

The highly-insulated prefabricated panels he plans to use are now manufactured out-of-state, but Co says he eventually hopes to be able to license the technology and make them here.

Co says the cooperative structure of the business would provide an ownership interest to the workers building the homes.

The homes themselves would be owned individually buy their buyers.

He says he hopes to address the high cost of acquiring land for construction in Evanston by focusing on building accessory dwelling units on house lots that the buyers already own.

Typically, he says, the co-op's crew might tear down a dilapidated garage at the back of a lot and replace it with a new garage topped by a coach-house style dwelling unit.

He says he still is getting the new business organized, but hopes to have a website launched more fully describing his plans by later this year.

He said he's not asking for any financial assistance from the city now, but wants to discuss how from a regulatory standpoint the work can be done "in a neighborly, interesting and equitable way."

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