Affordable Housing Building in the Pearl Performing Well After One Year

By Lee Fehrenbacher, DJC Oregon, October 18, 2012The Ramona Apartments complex has been open for one year. (Photo courtesy of Turtle Island Development LLC)

After a year of occupancy, the developer of the Ramona Apartments is reporting good results for the affordable housing complex in the Pearl District.

Turtle Island Development LLC recently announced that the 138-unit apartment complex has surpassed expectations for energy performance and attracting families with children to downtown Portland. Since it opened in March 2011, the complex has catered to families making 50 percent of the median income in Portland. It now is home to 357 residents, of which 116 are children.

The $45 million project (approximately $28 million for construction) was also designed to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold rating, but the company said the building’s performance has surpassed that benchmark and has met criteria for the Architecture 2030 Challenge.

The challenge requires all new buildings, developments and renovations to be 60 percent of the regional average for comparable buildings in fossil fuel, greenhouse gas-emissions and energy consumption. Turtle Island reports that the Ramona is using 50 percent of the energy that similar apartment buildings use. Ed McNamara, Turtle Island’s principal, said they used low-cost and low-maintenance design solutions.

“Our process for building it was to really pay a lot of attention to the building envelope – the walls, the windows, the roof, the barrier – because that’s where most of the heat is lost and where the infiltration comes in.”

He said many residents in the double-loaded corridor, six-story building report that they seldom use heating. The Ramona also achieved efficiency through efficient electric and water fixtures. Residents reportedly use just one third of the water consumed by the average Portlander, and Turtle Island boasts that the building has the largest contiguous eco-roof in the city – treating 100 percent of its storm water on site.

McNamara said the 2030 Challenge is an early goal for the building. Part of the idea is to have a benchmark to see if certain designs are working and to be able to communicate that to other builders.

“I think this type of energy improvement stuff is always going to be a work in progress,” McNamara said. “We’re not going to say this is the way to build it. This is the way to build it for what we knew then and when we build the next building we’ll do it a little bit differently.”