Green Building in Affordable Housing Reaches Critical Mass

Walker Wells's picture
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Seven years ago, Global Green USA developed a performance ranking system to compare states’ efforts to build sustainably-designed, healthy and energy efficient affordable housing. We recently completed our “Progress and Possibilities” report evaluating the 2012 Qualified Allocation Plans (QAPs), which guide the distribution of the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program (LIHTC). LIHTC supports development of nearly 100,000 housing units annually for individuals and families living below median income levels.

The results of this year’s analysis clearly demonstrate that green building has become a fundamental element of many states’ QAPs. For the first time, two states – Connecticut and Maryland – achieved perfect scores. Nearly half (47%) of all LIHTC funds went to states achieving an A- or better in our ranking, and 72% of all funds went to states that received a B- or better. Use of third-party standards is also growing. In the first year of analysis (2005), only 8 states mentioned a third party green building certification program in their QAP. Now, more than half of all states reference national or regional programs like LEED, Enterprise Green Communities, Green Point Rated, and Earthcraft. In 15 states, the majority of funded housing projects pursue green building certification.

Recognizing the growth in the number of states that are using third party programs, this year we updated our scoring system to offer two scoring paths. While the two perfect-scoring states followed the prescriptive path, nearly three-quarters of A- or better states followed the performance path.

Still, there is a great deal of room to further capitalize on the momentum built by the efforts of individual states as comprehensive federal action in this area is only in its infancy. To begin addressing this, the 2012 report offers a series of recommendations to further expand the scope, rigor and implementation of green measures in QAPs, and in low-income housing broadly:

  • Update the IRS code governing LIHTC to include health criteria and water conservation.
  • Use established tools and metrics such as Walk Score, Housing Transportation Index, and LEED for Neighborhood Development to define smart growth and sustainable neighborhood criteria in QAPs.
  • Standardize the green assessment process and energy performance expectations for rehabilitation projects.
  • Require energy monitoring for built developments, and establish standard methods for quantifying the environmental and health benefits of green building.
  • Require independent, third party verification of green building measures.
  • Include green requirements in other federal housing programs administered by the Department of Agriculture and HUD.

 I and my colleagues at Global Green USA look forward to further contributing to the national conversation on greening affordable housing, collaborating with stakeholders to push forward our recommendations, and work towards the wider goal of reducing GHG emissions.  With reelection wrapped up and events like Superstorm Sandy demanding the American populace acknowledge climate change’s potential catastrophic reality, targeted advocacy aimed at the federal level may be able to finally gain long-overdue traction.

Walker Wells is director of the green urbanism program for Global Green USA and a lecturer at Pomona College and UCLA.

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