Buildings and Housing

The buildings in which we live, work and congregate shelter us and provide comfort but they also consume a tremendous amount of energy, water and other resources while producing waste and emissions. These buildings can, however, be built or retrofitted to use these resources efficiently while still providing a quality of life for all.

Rental Properties

20% of Ashland residents live in rental housing and most businesses rent their space. Because of this, landlords are in a unique position to not only reduce waste for their tenants, but to make it easy for tenants to do the right thing. Later, when their tenants move on to other properties, they will take their good habits and practices with them.

Green Leases

The trouble is, a lot of improvements cost money that a landlord may never recoup. Tenants may benefit, but will the landlord? On the other hand, a tenant may be interested in investing some money themselves but it often does not make sense because they don’t know how long they will be in the property to recoup their investment. Hence, the the Split Incentives Challenge. Green Leases make it possible for a landlord to price green improvements into the rent. The rent is higher but the utility savings more than make up the difference for the rent. The landlord has an improved property that stands out from the rest, often attracting more conscientious tenants. The tenant enjoys the improvements without taking a risk of investing in a property they do not own. Below are a list of possible improvements.

Garden Plots

Many renters would love to have a garden plot to grow fresh veggies. The Community Garden has 52 garden plots with a long waiting list. Why not incorporate a garden plot as part of the apartment package? Or for a restaurant who wants to grow fresh herbs to use in their dishes? Community Solar Perfect for renters, a community solar cooperative could provide for solar power at a communal location paid for and benefited by the co-op participants. Mass Save Mass Save has a program for landlords to help them make their properties more energy efficient for themselves and for their tenants. If you are landlord, take advantage of this program! It will help you make improvements that will make your properties more attractive to prospective tenants and keep the current tenants happy in saving utilities -at a price you can afford. If you are a tenant, tell your landlord about this program. -It will benefit you both!

Not a landlord but own property? Mass Save can help you too!

Curbside Compost Pick-Up

Less than 1% of compostable material is composted. Most of it goes into a landfill, creating methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. If we made it easy for restaurants, businesses, renters, condo-dwellers, and the busy to put aside their compostable waste for town pick-up then we could substantially reduce our contribution to Climate Change while also harnessing a valuable resource that we can use on our landscaping.

Municipal Properties

The town of Ashland could save money on utilities and thus reduce taxes, become more resilient while also leading by example.

Public Bathrooms

If toilets in the library and other town properties were replaced with dual flush toilets, a sign could be hung above each of them, informing the public on how water-efficient it is and how much it is saving the taxpayer. Citizens would use these bathrooms, learn about how the town is becoming more efficient and inspire them to make improvements themselves. The town benefits from great public relations while also informing the public how we can all be a part of the solution to making our town more resourceful and self-sufficient. What to do with the old toilets?

Rainwater Catchment

We are fortunate enough to live in an area with frequent rainfall. However, due to all the impermeable surfaces, water just runs off into storm drains, collecting harmful pollutants along the way. Very little penetrates the soil, requiring us to irrigate with drinking water in the summer months. If our town buildings had rainwater catchment, we could have lovely plantings that would be watered throughout the summer (reducing the heat island effect) with stored rainwater. We could wash our town vehicles with rainwater instead of drinking water. In some instances we could flush the toilets with rainwater. Overflow could go into Rain Gardens where the water would slowly permeate into the ground, recharging the groundwater. The proposed new Public Safety building is a great place to start. If designed with Rainwater Catchment in mind from the very beginning, the Public Safety building could use a minimum of drinking water (if any) on putting out fires, washing vehicles and flushing toilets. Our existing Fire Stations could be retrofitted which would ensure an adequate water supply even in times of disaster when public water supply may be compromised.

Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

Combined heat and power (CHP) systems offer considerable environmental benefits when compared with purchased electricity and onsite-generated heat. By capturing and utilizing heat that would otherwise be wasted from the production of electricity, CHP systems require less fuel than equivalent separate heat and power systems to produce the same amount of energy.


Why not just have people make these changes on their own properties?

For many reasons, there are some properties that can’t make some or all of these changes using the conventional approach. However, a number of these properties have tremendous potential to serve a wide number of people beyond what the typical single family homeowner (who has total control of their property). For instance, people in condominiums cannot individually put solar panels on their roofs because it is against their condo association policy. However, if enough members of the association came together to find a way to bring Community Solar to their condo complex, that would mean people beyond the committed few would benefit from solar. The potential is enormous! By working on community-wide efforts to bring a solution to a problem, you get benefits on a much larger scale that surpass many of the hiccups that stop individuals from achieving the goal. Shouldn't we encourage everyone to do whatever they can to become more efficient? Absolutely! Taking a community-wide approach helps people directly and indirectly. For instance, single family homeowners may benefit from a condo solar project by being a part of a bulk-installation that includes the condominium complex and any others in single family homes who want to join in for bulk savings. Or, seeing work done on the community level might inspire and inform individuals to make the changes on their own homes. And, cooperative arrangements can be made among those who have figured something out on their own (like greywater recycling) and can advise or even help others install systems in their own homes, making their knowledge and hard work benefit more people than their individual home's footprint.

I don’t want my tax dollars going to community projects that don’t benefit me.

Many of these projects bring indirect benefits to the the whole community. The goal of Transition is to bring resilience, sustainability and a high quality of life to everyone in the community. Helping people in low income housing save money on their heating bills, leaves more money in their budget to spend on necessities purchased by our local businesses which fuels a healthy, local economy. Those lower heating bills also mean lower emissions and a smaller energy footprint, helping reduce our contribution to Climate Change. We all benefit from that. Making it easier for people to bike to work or school helps reduce congestion, pollution, and obesity. People feel better about themselves, arrive at work or school with higher concentration levels, higher energy, and a healthier and more fit body. Our town’s quality of life is raised by the sense of safety we have from people being out and about, connected and invested in their community, looking out for one another. We all benefit from that. A Town Hall that is powered with solar panels and a Public Safety building with rain catchment helps save taxes by conserving valuable resources while also showing everyone in the community what is possible. We all benefit from that.

How does providing garden plots to apartments help?

Providing resiliency and a quality of life, garden plots give residents an opportunity to take control over some of their food. Health concerns over GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) and pesticides have motivated people to have a deeper connection to their food. A garden plot could also be an unusual selling point to an apartment that would help a landlord’s property stand out from the rest and may draw attractive and responsible tenants. In affordable housing, garden plots could give immigrants with farming knowledge from their home country a place to practice and share their knowledge of others. Flats Mentor Farms in Lancaster, MA started out as a few immigrants given permission to farm unused land . At the Ashland Community Garden, you have people sharing their knowledge and their harvests with each other.