Published on 10/28/15

$72,000 USDA grant will allow UGA researchers to share net-zero energy technology with Georgia homebuilders

By Chris Beckham

In an effort to use the latest technological advancements to benefit families, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences a $72,000 grant.

USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Lisa Mensah made the formal announcement on Tuesday, Oct. 13, in front of UGA’s new Future Farmstead site, located on the CAES campus in Tifton, Georgia. The grant is aimed at sharing the technology and building methods used to construct the Future Farmstead, a net-zero energy project, with builders so they can construct affordable housing for south Georgia residents.

USDA officials were on hand for a seminar with contractors and others to discuss the USDA Rural Development and UGA Research Foundation's technology-sharing program and the program's required guidelines. Additionally, USDA officials shared information on a loan program geared towards providing low-income families with greater opportunities to purchase a home.

The loans are designed for families without adequate housing, but who can afford mortgage payments and have reasonable credit histories. Restrictions regarding annual income and the value of the home do apply. Local USDA staff can assist interested parties.

“There is so much excitement surrounding the Future Farmstead project, and the chance that we can put that technology to use to help someone own their own home is exciting,” Mensah said. “This program is designed to help people in rural communities achieve those dreams.”

Craig Kvien, the UGA professor who directed the planning and development of the Future Farmstead, said that incorporating the latest innovations featured in the farmstead “just makes sense.”

“If your power bill averages $10 a month, you can take what you’re saving and roll that into a mortgage payment,” he said. “All of this technology is on the market. As a matter of fact, several builders are already using it and it works.”

Mensah said the USDA Rural Development program has $200 billion in outstanding loans, making it the 14th largest bank in the world. The loans have a 1 percent interest rate with no down payment.

“The goal is to get people to own more than they owe,” she said. “We’re asked all of the time how we can improve lives in rural America. This is it.”

Andrew Young, former congressman, mayor of Atlanta and U.S. ambassador, joined Mensah and other members of the USDA staff in making the announcement. Young remarked that he always enjoyed returning to south Georgia, where he lived in the 1950s while serving as a pastor of a church in Thomasville, Georgia.

“It’s always great to come back here, especially now for two big reasons – air conditioning and integration,” he said.

Congressman Austin Scott also lauded the program as a way for rural Georgians to improve their lives. He also complimented Kvien and Joe West, assistant dean for the UGA Tifton Campus, on their drive to see the Future Farmstead project through.

Quinton Robinson, USDA Rural Development director for Georgia, said he has a passion for low-income housing and that home ownership should be a lofty goal. “The net-zero concept is a great one and can mean a great deal to a lot of people,” he said. “But this won’t happen without a big push from the industry.”

Mensah, staff members from regional USDA offices, including Tifton Director Fred Council, UGA staff and other interested parties toured the Future Farmstead site following the grant announcement.

Chris Beckham is a news writer working with the University of Georgia Tifton campus and the Tifton Chamber of Commerce.

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