Local landlord is crazy about green

Not every landlord inveighs against fossil fuels, but then again, Dale Howey isn’t your average landlord.  As the owner, manager and environmental cheerleader-in-chief of Green Rock Apartments (and a tireless Frogtown Green volunteer), Howey wants to put sustainability into urban living. 
Since 2000, Howey has been buying up what he calls “crappy homes” in Minneapolis’ Elliott Park neighborhood and then adding insulation, electric appliances and more, to shrink his properties’ energy consumption.  
Tenants in Green Rock’s 146 units receive free LED light bulbs and lithium batteries to reduce personal energy use.  Structural improvements like solar panels, white reflective roofs, high efficiency boilers, energy-efficient doors and windows, a geothermal system and heat pump units in many units reduce tenants’ utility bills overall. Arrays of solar panels are allowing Howey to sell excess energy back to the power company, which can offset the cost of the panels and installation. “I don’t have an electric bill,” Howey says proudly, “and some tenants’ bills are like $20!”
Energy isn’t his only focus. Howey is a die-hard “free-cycler” who says he “fights like crazy to keep things out of the dumpster.” Green Rock apartment recycling areas include bins for metal scraps, light bulbs (“which sometimes contain mercury”) and electronics, which he and his staff recycle, so his tenants don’t add unnecessarily to area landfills. Even plastic bags are recycled, although Howey tries to reduce tenants’ plastic consumption by providing compostable trash bags and even dog poop bags. 
The Green Rock sustainability manifesto includes a commitment to urban gardening. “We like to say our dirt is your dirt,” Howey says enthusiastically. The buildings’ compost bins give interested tenants a place to recycle their food scraps, while nearby vegetable gardens maintained by Green Rock offer the urban gardeners a place to “play in the dirt.” 
An active volunteer with Frogtown Green’s tree-planting program, Howey works sustainability and environmentalism into almost every interaction and conversation he conducts. He has purchased an electric charging station for his St. Paul church, and installed charging for electric cars at his own home in Roseville. 
For Howey, environmentalism is a passion, a necessity, and a great big calling. “I wanted to figure out what we could do to leverage our assets to change the culture,” Howey explains in one of his YouTube videos (yes, he’s on YouTube, at “Crazy Green Landlord”). 
What about rents and turnover? 
As a businessman, Howey can’t ignore the realities of the rental market. He maintains that tenants appreciate his emphasis on the environment, and repay him by maintaining stability in his rentals. “We’ve had tenants stick with us for 10 years or more,” he asserts. Howey has also found that the city of Minneapolis is a willing partner in reducing expenses. He’s gotten financing help for many of the improvements made through the city’s Green Cost Share program, an effort to improve environmental health by matching investments in solar and energy efficiency projects. (Minneapolismn.gov/green-cost-share)
Whatever the upfront cost, Howey maintains that the payback is substantial– and that he would do it even if it weren’t. Not all landlords are eager to make the changes he has made, but Howey says he’s not worried about what other people do. 
“I can’t change what anybody else is doing, but I can change what I’m doing as a landlord. Let’s get busy and make a future for the world we all live in,” he concludes.
Frogtown Green is a resident-led and volunteer-powered environmental initiative in St Paul’s most diverse neighborhood. They plant trees, cultivate gardens and work toward a healthier environment. If you’d like to know more, browse frogtowngreen.com or call 651-757-5970. Patricia Ohmans is an environmental health educator and co-director of Frogtown Green.


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