Juan Carlos Linares

What does sustainability mean to you?

To me, "sustainability" is a term that presents multiple opportunities to bridge climate resilience with housing justice for all of Chicago. At a recent community meeting, we asked the participants whether climate change was an urgent issue for their lives. No hands rose. But after we asked the participants whether their basements had been flooded in the last major rain event, or whether their utility costs had risen due to longer air conditioning usage, many hands rose. And after we asked if participants had felt housing insecurity due to higher housing costs, all hands shot up.

When most residents think of "sustainability," they may not make the immediate connection to rain resilience planning for their homes, or weatherization rehabs that can dramatically lower their utility costs and carbon footprints. But "sustainability" means more than just climate-related interventions, it also means preserving housing affordability to keep long-time neighbors in place, to welcome new generations to homeownership in our vibrant city, and to sustain the historic strengths of Chicago's neighborhoods, which includes immigrant, low-income and working class families- a Chicago for all.

It is in bridging climate resiliency for the places where we live, and in sustaining affordable homes for all Chicagoans where I find clarity, utility, urgency and strength in the term "sustainability," both in the work that we do and for the outcomes for our city.

What has been your greatest experience working towards a more sustainable Chicago?

40% of the carbon footprint in the U.S. comes from buildings. With this in mind, I set out to study a building certification called Passive House, which is required in jurisdictions that I visited in Germany, but for which Chicago had not yet had one example of in a multi-family building. LUCHA always works with communities first in developing its affordable housing, and in this process it became clear that our Humboldt Park and Logan Square residents wanted to be worthy of Illinois' first multi-family Passive House certified building.

In short, the building is so-well sealed, that heat and air mechanicals will be kept to a minimum, and to much less than what is expected of a conventional home, such that we expect residents to save up to 95% of their energy costs for the year. But this innovation presented challenges to an age-old Chicago building code, which when written decades ago did not consider the requirements of ultra energy-efficient buildings.

Thanks to the help and guidance of the City's Chief Sustainability Officer, multiple visits to the Department of Buildings resulted in administrative relief to move the Passive House building forward. And with further support from Enterprise Community Partners, the Chicago Community Trust and ComEd, our development team has received visits during construction from national experts who are rooting to see Chicago neighborhoods pioneer Passive House for the Midwest.

This success has led to further neighborhood greening initiatives in partnership with Center for Neighborhood Technology and Logan Square Neighborhood Association to create a bioswale next to the Logan Square Blue Line station. Situated along our new mural dedicated to the myriad cultures and immigrant heritage of Logan Square, the bioswale will be filled with vegetation and is designed to concentrate pollution out of surface runoff water near the station.