AIA Top Ten Green Project Achieves Many Firsts in the Sustainable World

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorSan Jose, Calif.—Gish Apartments, a 35-unit transit-oriented, mixed-use affordable housing community, was named as one of the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (AIA-COTE)’s Top Ten Green Projects of 2009.Gish Apartments is the only affordable housing development in the nation to receive both LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes Gold and LEED NC (LEED for New Construction) Gold certification. In addition, the community received 145 points from Build it Green—a non-profit organization that promotes energy-efficient homes in California—GreenPoint rating, the highest ever achieved for a multi-housing project. Developed by First Community Housing, designed by The Office of Jerome King (OJK): Architecture and Planning, and built by Branagh Construction Inc., Gish Apartments provides housing for families earning 35 percent to 50 percent of AMI. “This process was successful because of the integrated nature of the design-build project. The owner, architect and contractor worked as a team under the guidance of a LEED AP to deliver the project with the targeted LEED points,” Jerry King, AIA, principal-in-charge at OJK Architecture and Planning, tells MHN. “We were able to do it because we worked together. It really makes a big difference, and it allows everyone to expect a certain level of performance, a high level of trust, and there is a like-minded approach to the whole process.”King credits BIM (Building Information Modeling) with making the integrated design-build approach possible. “It’s cost-effective from every standpoint. I can’t say enough about it—it reduces liability and lawsuits, and the cost of liability insurance is less.”Financing for the $14.5 million Gish Apartments was made possible through tax-credit equity, tax-exempt bond financing from the California Housing Finance Agency, and loans and grants from the City of San Jose. Permanent financing sources include a loan from the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s Multifamily Housing Program, and environmental site investigation and remediation were paid for by a California Recycle Underutilized Sites (CALReUSE) forgivable loan and a grant from the State Water Board. The AIA/COTE uses ten measures and supporting metrics to evaluate submissions, including: intent and innovation, community, site, bioclimatic design, light & air, water, energy, materials, long life and feedback.Formerly a gas station, the urban infill site was designed to have a 100-year service life and features a rooftop photovoltaic array that provides energy to common areas and returns energy to the grid at off-peak times; high-performance, recycled-content insulation; double-glazed windows; Energy Star Appliances; and high-efficiency heating and hot water systems.The community, which is adjacent to the light rail, includes a convenience store and a beauty salon. First Community Housing provides free annual “EcoPasses” to residents for unlimited use of the light rail and bus systems.The proximity of public transit to the site made it possible for the parking ratio to be reduced, allowing the team to create more affordable housing units. At the same time, they maintained the retail fabric of the street, as parking is located beneath the building, King explains. Locating the parking here eliminates the increased runoff associated with surface parking.The community offers efficiencies, two- and three-bedroom units, ranging in size from approximately 355 sq. ft. to 1,029 sq. ft. Thirteen of the units are reserved for residents with developmental disabilities.Residents have access to a computer center and are provided with services, including financial literacy training, computer training and after-school programs. Housing Choices Coalition provides services for residents with developmental disabilities and facilitates communication between the residents, their case managers and the property management team.The owner, architect and contractor team, which has worked together in the past on affordable housing projects, is moving forward on two additional projects, King notes