Why City Governments Should Adopt the 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria

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This is a guest post by Katie Swenson and Tom Osdoba.

Photovoltaic cells cover the facade of a green apartment building in Berlin, Germany. The photovoltaic cells replace the conventional facade slabs and produce around 25,000 kWh of solar-generated electricity a year, which is then fed into the public grid and offsets the energy consumption of the building. This also helps to reduce the operating costs charged to residents. (Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Cities are centers of opportunity — thriving cities promote economic mobility, improve access to important services, and attract businesses and jobs. Housing is the first rung on the ladder of opportunity. Without a home, it’s hard for adults to get or keep a job, and it’s hard for kids to find a safe, quiet place to do homework and stay healthy. The best housing focuses on meeting the needs of residents and the surrounding community, and can make a profound difference in the lives of residents. Green affordable housing also improves resident and community health without increasing costs.

With that in mind, Enterprise Community Partners and a coalition of leading affordable housing and sustainable development organizations created the 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria — and we’re calling on every city government in the United States to adopt this critical standard for greening all affordable housing.

Originally introduced in 2004, the Criteria are the first national standard for creating and preserving green affordable housing. They help cities and housing developers deliver the economic, health and environmental benefits of green building to the most vulnerable residents, and do so in a cost-effective way. Criteria-certified housing helps build long-term solutions to systemic housing issues that affect communities of every size across the country. Our goal is to ensure every affordable home in America is built to this level of quality.

Criteria-certified homes are 15% more efficient than those built to local code. They reduce energy use by almost 2,000 kilowatt hours and greenhouse gas emissions by 1.4 metric tons per home per year. That means that in 2014 alone, homes built to meet the Criteria saved the energy equivalent of removing 2,300 vehicles from the road or adding 9,077 acres of forest land.

Since the Criteria were introduced, Enterprise has invested nearly $3 billion and created more than 38,000 healthy, green homes. We’ve worked with more than 550 organizations to build capacity and encouraged the adoption of policies that support green affordable housing development at the local, state and federal levels. The 2015 Criteria will expand on that work: for the first time, we’ve included resilient design features that take things like climate change, natural disaster, power loss and other interruptions in available services into account. They also include “active design” criteria that encourage using the architecture of the building to help combat major health issues that disproportionately affect low-income communities like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and mental health issues. For example, something as simple as placing a stairwell in a prominent location can encourage their use over elevators, enabling residents to burn enough calories each day to prevent average annual weight gain.

The benefits of green building extend beyond residents to the neighboring communities as well: the Criteria encourage the use of local services and the creation of walkable neighborhoods with good lighting. They also improve water quality and reduce the impact of storm water runoff on community sewer systems.

Seventy percent of design decisions are made during the first ten percent of the design process. By considering the health and environmental factors that affect communities at the very beginning of that process, housing developers can build better homes; by encouraging use of the Criteria, city governments can build better communities. Enterprise has found that healthy, green housing doesn’t cost more, especially with good design processes that prioritize these considerations early. In those cases where building to our standard can bring slightly higher initial costs, the operating savings quickly pay back those costs and deliver long-term economic benefits throughout the life of the property.

Enterprise’s goal is to end housing insecurity in the United States within a generation. That means no more homelessness and no more families paying more than half their income on housing. As a down payment toward that goal, Enterprise will help provide opportunity to 1 million low-income families through quality affordable housing in thriving neighborhoods by 2020. The Green Communities Criteria help us get there by building long-term solutions to some of our most pressing issues.

More than 20 cities and states referenced the last version of the Criteria in their low-income housing programs. Enterprise and our partners developed the 2015 Criteria based on years of experience and research, and we aim to build on the work we’ve done so far to make all affordable housing in the country green. Together, we will end housing insecurity, and we ask every city in America to join us.

About the authors:

Tom Osdoba is Vice President of Enterprise Green Communities at Enterprise Community Partners.


Katie Swenson is Vice President of design initiatives at Enterprise Community Partners.