Magazine article Partners in Community and Economic Development

Can Housing Be Green and Affordable? as the Green Movement in Homebuilding Takes off Nationwide, Affordable Housing Advocates Are Eager to Explore Its Advantages

Magazine article Partners in Community and Economic Development

Can Housing Be Green and Affordable? as the Green Movement in Homebuilding Takes off Nationwide, Affordable Housing Advocates Are Eager to Explore Its Advantages

Article excerpt

Although green housing still accounts for only a small percentage of the total housing market, the National Homebuilders Association sees it as the wave of the future.

Green building and affordable housing are natural partners. Affordable housing advocates focus on many of the same issues as advocates for green building--ensuring long-term housing affordability, creating neighborhoods of choice and limiting urban sprawl.

Many assume that green approaches to homebuilding, which often cost more at the outset, are not appropriate for affordable housing. However, a growing body of evidence speaks to the contrary. Advocates for the greening of affordable housing argue that it is actually more economical because over time low-income homeowners will benefit from lower utility bills, fewer maintenance costs and healthier environments.

What is green building?.

The most common perception about green building is that it uses environmentally sensitive building materials in energy-efficient designs. However, green building also encompasses the character of the community to consider proximity to transportation, infrastructure, jobs and services. Green building is a holistic strategy for sustainable development that aims to reduce utility costs, improve housing conditions and the health of the community residents, and limit urban sprawl and poorly planned development.

The green building rating system of The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) recognizes the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as the national leader in promoting healthy, environmentally responsible and profitable building. The LEED program, which created national green building standards, encourages integrating green practices throughout the design and construction process.

One of the largest national players in the affordable housing industry, Enterprise Community Partners Inc., launched its Green Communities Initiative in 2004. It aims to make green building and sustainable development a mainstream phenomenon in the affordable housing industry through the creation of national standards. The criteria established for Green Communities draw heavily on standards developed for the LEED program and are compatible with other state and local green building programs.

Green Communities criteria address three key areas: energy and resource conservation, healthy environments and community characteristics. These areas are subdivided into seven categories: integrated design, location and neighborhood fabric, site improvements, energy efficiency, water conservation, materials beneficial to the environment, and operation and maintenance. These guidelines represent the first set of comprehensive criteria for building low-income sustainable housing.

Working with the National Resources Defense Council, Enterprise has pledged $555 million to the Green Communities Initiative over the next 5 years. Their goal is to provide training, technical support and policy advocacy to create 8,500 green affordable homes.

State and local organizations have also created green building standards. For example, the EarthCraft House was created by Southface and the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association to promote healthy, sustainable development and affordable housing. The EarthCraft program, which began in Atlanta, has now certified over 1,500 homes in the Southeast.

Costs and benefits of building green

The affordable housing industry is assuming an important role in the green building movement as an increasing number of affordable housing developers adopt green building techniques. However, only limited research has been conducted about the costs and benefits of green affordable housing. Research thus far focuses mainly on green practices in commercial and industrial development, where results consistently indicate that long-term benefits exceed the upfront capital costs.

Housing affordability is usually measured by the initial construction costs. …

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