The Benefits Of Green Building To Affordable Housing

Sustainability has three core components—economics, social equity, and the environment. Affordable housing diretly addresses two of those aspects: economic stability and social equity. Integrating green building enables developers to address the third environ-

FIGURE 1.5. PVC-Free House (New Orleans, LA). Photo courtesy of Bruce M. Hampton, AIA FIGURE 1.6. Riverview Homes (Camden, NJ). Photo courtesy of Darren Molnar-Port, NJDCA-NJ Green Homes Office FIGURE 1.7. Betty Ann Gardens (San Jose, CA). Photo courtesy of First Community Housing FIGURE 1.8. Magnolia Circle (South DeKalb, GA).

Photo courtesy of Southface Energy Institute

FIGURE 1.5. PVC-Free House (New Orleans, LA). Photo courtesy of Bruce M. Hampton, AIA FIGURE 1.6. Riverview Homes (Camden, NJ). Photo courtesy of Darren Molnar-Port, NJDCA-NJ Green Homes Office FIGURE 1.7. Betty Ann Gardens (San Jose, CA). Photo courtesy of First Community Housing FIGURE 1.8. Magnolia Circle (South DeKalb, GA).

Photo courtesy of Southface Energy Institute mental component that has not traditionally been seen as an integral part of affordable housing development.

A green building approach is consistent with the mission of most affordable housing developers, and most community development corporation mission statements include language about ensuring that low-income people have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing. For example, Mercy Housing California gives its mission as "to create and strengthen healthy communities through the provision of quality, affordable, service-enriched housing for individuals and families who are economically poor." California's Eden Housing states its mission as "to build and maintain high-quality, well-managed, service-enriched affordable housing commu-

FIGURE: 1.9. Green building can link the three components of sustainability.

nities that meet the needs of lower-income families, seniors, and persons with disabilities."

Though neither mission statement has explicit language addressing the impact of the building itself on the well-being of residents, the core concepts need only be expanded slightly to do so. The definition of safe housing should include provision of a living space that is healthy, not just physically secure. Decent should include the assurance that low-income families are not disproportionately exposed to toxic materials, mold, extremes of heat or cold, or noise. Affordable should include the ongoing costs of utilities and maintenance, not just the purchase price or monthly rent. Finally, the idea of community should include a connection to the natural environment.

Combining green building and affordable housing offers a number of direct and indirect benefits to residents and owners of affordable housing and to the larger community. The spheres of benefits green building provides to affordable housing are depicted in Figure 1.10. Direct benefits include utility cost savings, healthier living environments, and increased durability. Utility costs for low-income families can be up to 25 percent of expenses after rent or mortgage payments9—more than what is spent on education or health care10—as compared to approximately 5 percent of net income for middle-class families. Energy and water savings enable low-income residents to shift financial resources to higher-priority items such as more nutritious food, health care, and education, or to move up financially by saving toward the purchase of a home. Locating projects close to transit helps reduce the financial and environmental impacts of driving and vehicle ownership. Avoiding the need for a second car can save a family approximately $3,200 annually.11 The health benefits are also crucial, given studies that show a higher rate of asthma among low-income children and attribute asthma incidents to aspects of the indoor environment.12 Healthy residents also lessen the burden on the overall health care system.

Other, less direct benefits of green affordable housing include support for regional issues such as solid waste management through construction waste recycling programs or use of recycled-content materials, and improved water quality through on-site treatment and retention of stormwater. Global benefits include reduced energy use, thus lowering the amount of carbon dioxide—one of the main climate change gases—entering the atmosphere, or forest preservation by using sustainably harvested wood.

Because projects are typically owned and operated by the same organization for at least fifteen years (the compliance period for the federal low-income housing tax credit),

FIGURE 1.10. Green building provides multiple spheres of benefits, from the individual to the global sphere.

and often much longer, affordable housing developers are able to use a long-term-life-cycle approach to design, which is one of the core tenets of green building. With this time horizon, a high-efficiency boiler with a seven- to ten-year payback is a viable choice, as the owner would capture at least five to eight years of savings. But the same system would likely not be a viable choice for a market-rate developer with a time horizon of three years or less.

Being able to look at benefits over the long term gives affordable housing developers the unique opportunity to view the full range of green building strategies and their associated benefits in a comprehensive way in order to focus on those that are the best fit for the developer, the residents, the community, and the larger environment.

FIGURE 1.10. Green building provides multiple spheres of benefits, from the individual to the global sphere.

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