Eco-Friendly Blocks Build Tribal Houses & Business

This house, built by the Pascua Yaqui tribe in Tucson, Ariz. from environmentally-friendly EF Blocks, is for sale to tribal members and is the first of what may be 30 homes to follow made out of a material used by several other tribes in Arizona for homes and commercial buildings.

A home made out of energy-efficient building material on the Pascua Yaqui homeland in Tucson, Ariz. may be the start of something big.

The approximately 2,000 square feet home, framed by material called EF Block (EF is for Earth Friendly), is a demonstration project for the tribe, which wants to demonstrate it can build houses using its own housing employees and that it can boost homeownership for those that want to live on the reservation, by selling those houses to tribal members.

If successful, plans are to build six more five-plexes out of the material, which is made mostly from recycled products.

The four-bedroom, two-bath house is listed for sale at $229,900, according to Rolando Jaimez, contracting officer, who helped oversee the construction. He said various tribal members are looking into getting Department of Housing and Urban Development section 184 loans to finance the purchase.

“It’ll be a good home for someone who wants it,” he said.

The EF Block, manufactured by Earth Friendly Building Materials LLC of Tempe, Ariz., is “really well insulated,” said Jaimez, and construction of the block frame took less than a week. Total construction time was four to five months.

In addition to employing a homegrown force, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe is using a combination of tribal loans and nonprogram income to build homes. The tribe is going to use proceeds from a Low Income Housing Tax Credit allocation to fund the five-plexes, said Jaimez, and is currently looking for an investor to buy the tax credits. It hopes to realize several million dollars from this deal, and has done five previous LIHTC deals.

Dan Chouinard, owner of EFBM, said his firm has provided the EF Blocks for 25 to 30 buildings in Arizona Indian Country in addition to the one in Tucson. These include both houses and commercial buildings like a courthouse and dialysis center. Among tribes served have been the Navajo Nation, the Fort McDowell Apache Tribe, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, and the Gila River Indian Community.

He said that with the plans the Pascua Yaqui tribe has made for more houses, “this could really be something very big for them.”

The blocks are made of 87 percent recycled items, like Styrofoam, and 13 percent from more traditional materials, like Portland cement.

“It’s very durable,” said Chouinard. “It will survive the test of time.”

With the recyclables, the cost of building the product is kept low, he pointed out. He said his business model resembles that of Goodwill Industries, where most of what they sell is donated to them.

Chouinard said EFBM trained the Pascua Yaqui work crew on how to do the EF Block installation on the first house.

He touted the environmentally-friendly character of the block and said, “We’re the only industrial country that builds out of wood. Wood is not the best material to build a house.”

Tahda Ahtone, executive director of JackRabbit Homes in Tempe, which has both for profit and nonprofit units, said, “Our nonprofit is currently in negotiations to purchase world distribution rights for the EF Block from Dan Chouinard,” and plans to use the “eco-smart” material for development both in and outside of Indian Country.

“It started off as Indian Country and the more and more I got into it I realized that it is the entire world in need of better housing,” she said.

“We are working on a senior housing project in Duquesne, Pennsylvania,” she said, on the non-profit side, and the for profit unit also has a project planned in Pennsylvania.

JackRabbit’s for profit/nonprofit structure helps it target Indian customers at all income levels.

According to EFBM, the EF Block “transforms standard recycled polystyrene and plastics into durable, fire-resistant and highly insulative blocks that are easy to stack and shape into just about every construction design you can imagine.”

During construction, “EF Block panels are stacked on top of each other without the need for mortared seams. The panels are easy to cut and shape to fit nearly any design. As the EF Block panels are stacked, steel rods (rebar) are inserted in grid-work fashion throughout the cores, and then the cores are filled with concrete.”

Research assistant Priestess J. Bearstops, Oglala Lakota, contributed to this article.




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