Climate Tech + Community = A Winning Housing Strategy for NOLA?

National climate technology investor selects New Orleans to showcase its community housing collaboration model

On January 26, one of the world’s largest nonprofit climate technology investors announced a partnership with a New Orleans housing and development funding agency in order to create more affordable, sustainable, climate-responsive housing that meets the present and future needs of New Orleanians.

In its first such venture, Elemental Excelerator (Elemental) — a national nonprofit founded in Hawaii — is collaborating with Finance New Orleans (FNO), as well as national and local organizations, the mayor’s office and local housing authorities to create a model that could be replicated by housing development organizations in cities across the U.S.

Together, the duo created a $2 million fund and launched the NOLA Affordable and Resilient Homes Challenge to obtain community-centered financing to deploy climate technologies in new and retrofitted single-family homes.

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The fund will be augmented by an investment of up to $200,000 from Elemental, including technology, and an opportunity for a larger investment of up to $1 million.Paired with FNO’s Green Mortgages Program — a first-mortgage down payment assistance program — the fund will finance homes that are affordable and sustainable in their design, construction and operation.

“We want homes that last longer than eight to 10 years,” said Elemental COO Avra van der Zee.


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The project will launch with seven sites targeted for development and retrofitting, according to FNO CEO Damon Burns, including six single-family homes in the Gentilly and Pontchartrain Park neighborhoods that will be put up for sale. There will also be a commercial building on Baronne Street in the CBD, which could have height added and become a mixed-use structure that will include housing.

Along with the fund, Elemental has launched the NOLA Affordable and Resilient Homes Challenge with the goal of “unlocking a deep pool of entrepreneurs, dedicated funds and key decision-makers to drive concrete results through community-centered financing.”

The challenge is unique because it includes a community and stakeholder engagement phase — that began in March — to ensure there is meaningful local input in solution selection and deployment. Elemental CEO Dawn Lippert’s guiding principle is “Technology brings half the solution… community brings the other half.”

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After the community input has been gathered, technology applications would be explored.
The National Association of Local Housing Finance Authorities (NALHFA) and other local housing authorities will advise on the challenge.

“Accelerating the adoption of environmentally friendly affordable housing solutions not only creates more resilient and eco-friendly communities but it also helps local economies and increases job growth by leveraging public and private funds to increase earnings, increase tax revenue and put people to work,” said NALHFA President Dawn Arnold, executive vice president and COO of Invest Atlanta. “NALHFA member Finance New Orleans and its partners are leading the way in creating replicable models for affordable homes that are also resilient and sustainable. We look forward to bringing this type of innovation to our nationwide network.”

The Coalition of Green Capital (CGC) will also work with the partnership to amplify best practices from the challenge across its network of state and local green banks, community development financial institutions (CDFI), and other finance institutions. CDFIs are mission-driven financial institutions that have been certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s CDFI Fund. They include credit unions, banks, loan funds and venture capital funds that operate with a primary mission of serving low-income communities.

“We are honored to support this innovation challenge as a prime example of how our nationwide network can accelerate green technology and increase energy abundance by, for and with communities,” said CGC Executive Director and COO Eli Hopson.

Homes will feature innovative clean-energy and water-efficient technologies. Burns said many housing solutions are being examined, including the use of 3D printing, containers and other nontraditional elements.

Van der Zee expects that the technology selection could be completed in a matter of months and deployment carried out in one to two years. Local construction companies and contractors will receive priority consideration.

Burns added the collaboration will propel workforce partners and training.

“We see a new economy,” he said. “We have a lot of good energy, a lot of faith. I feel good about where we’re going.”


Elemental and FNO came together about a year ago to put a plan into action. Elemental liked FNO’s track record and leadership.

“We thought about expanding. We are at a pivotal moment for the energy transition so we want to show how innovation can benefit communities,” said van der Zee. “Investing in these communities has never been more important. We saw the real entrepreneurial spirit to build sustainable wealth.”

Founded in 2009, Elemental Funding has invested in more than 150 startups in the energy, mobility, water, industry, nature-based solutions and agriculture sectors. More than half of the nonprofit’s portfolio companies serve customers in low-and moderate-income communities and two-thirds are working with community-based partners.

According to the nonprofit’s 2023 report, since 2012, it has distributed more than $79 million to climate companies to help them scale their impact. Elemental’s portfolio includes work in all 50 states and supports customers and/or operations in more than 100 countries. The nonprofit funded 20 projects in 2023.

According to Lippert, Elemental is the second most highly networked climate investor, coming in only behind the National Science Foundation. In 2020, it was awarded the United Nations Global Climate Action Award.

Founded by the City Council of New Orleans in 1978 as the “New Orleans Home Mortgage Authority,” Finance New Orleans is a housing and development finance agency whose mission is to improve the quality of life in New Orleans by directly investing in the creation of affordable housing and economic development projects that produce quality jobs for residents. The agency does this by providing mortgage financing for low-to-moderate-income families and credit support for affordable rental and community development projects. Since 1979, FNO’s investments have resulted in more than 8,000 mortgage financings along with the creation of affordable rental units.

FNO also has a Multifamily Developer Program, which provides tax-exempt bond financing, property tax exemptions and green infrastructure loans to increase the supply of sustainable affordable housing. The program is also intended to provide the City of New Orleans and FNO with local control over affordable housing development.


In a city challenged by a lack of affordable housing, the collaboration could serve as a welcome shot in the arm and jumpstart to the future.

As Elemental and FNO deepen this collaboration, they look forward to co-creating climate innovation strategies with New Orleanians to achieve lasting positive impact for housing development, economic growth and community resilience.

Elemental’s commitment to equity and access strives to help advance innovation in the homes, workplaces and neighborhoods that make up communities.

“We’re identifying other community partners; we’re seeking other partners. Some potential partners have approached us,” said Burns.

Residents and businesses are invited to get involved in the challenge process by signing up for email updates as well as participating in virtual or in-person feedback sessions and dialogues. Priority for participation will be given to people from the New Orleans community, particularly those from the Gentilly and Pontchartrain Park neighborhoods and/or prospective residents of those areas. Participants will be compensated for their time. Application forms can be found at

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