Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Right Idea, Wrong Execution

I won’t criticize Bradd Pitt for trying to help with the Katrina recovery. It’s noble work and kudos to him for continuing it. But it seems to me that he’s making a critical error in the way he’s choosing to help rebuild the communities. From the article:
The house that Pitt toured, loosely modeled on the distinctive New Orleans shotgun" style of long, narrow homes, will generate almost all its electricity from 28 roof-mounted solar panels, said Global Green USA president Matt Petersen.
Global Green hopes to use the house, which should be completed this fall, as a prototype for the neighborhood. Built not far from the banks of the Mississippi River and raised by three feet on concrete pilings, it is above sea level.
Why do I think he’s making a mistake? Because the article also says this:
Some in the area, which was not as badly flooded as others in the city, are rebuilding. But a lack of funds have kept most from starting fresh.
What Pitt’s doing is encouraging the construction of more-expensive, higher-maintenance-cost structures targeted at low-income families. This doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.

Solar panels are not cheap, neither to install nor to maintain. There are 28 of them on top of each of these houses (according to the article). So the people who buy these houses must pay the not-negligible added cost of the panels and of their upkeep. Or, the people who sell the homes must lose money.

And finding people willing to invest in real estate that’s guaranteed to lose money is difficult. Well, now that the subprime market has collapsed it is.