Sustainability Is Built in a Project’s Early Stages

6 min read

For affordable housing, balancing the expense and effectiveness of sustainable options means working closely with consultants early on.

Jamboree's Courier Place in Claremont, Calif.

There are many options available today to improve a multifamily development’s sustainability profile. For an affordable housing project, however, some may be too expensive while others may be less-than-effective. At Jamboree Housing, we work hand-in-hand with the consultant team at the earliest stages of the design process to determine which components make the most sense based on affordability goals and constraints. Not every project needs to be LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)-certified to be effectively sustainable. Our green motto is, “Do what we can whenever we can, raising the bar as we go.”

An important factor that affordable housing developers must embrace more fully to ensure that their new ventures are approved, built and competitive, is real sustainability. While there is much talk about the importance of sustainability in today’s world, at the end of the day there still seems to be more talk than action. But for developers of affordable housing who take sustainability seriously, it can be the difference between approval and denial, success and failure.

Powerful voices and inexorable forces in states such as California are pushing forward the importance and value of sustainability as a critical element in the development of affordable housing—and all housing for that matter—as our planet grapples with the increasing cost of energy, the growing scarcity of clean water and the need to reduce greenhouse gas and clean up our environment. About 21 percent of all energy consumed in the U.S. is within the residential sector. For those of us in the housing industry, there is no turning back.

California: a national leader

California is a national leader in the movement to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The new California Title 24 “CALGreen,” adopted in January 2011, includes a mix of mandatory and voluntary measures to improve the energy efficiency of new residential development in the state. Even the California Tax Credit Allocation Commission (CTCAC) that provides Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) for affordable housing has jumped on the green bandwagon by requiring that submittals for LIHTCs include sustainability measures revolving around LEED for Homes; Green Communities; or the GreenPoint Rated Multifamily guidelines.

Realizing these benefits and their value to our residents, our portfolio includes new and refurbished properties that feature optimum energy efficiency and sustainability components. For the past several years, Jamboree’s communities typically exceed California’s Title 24 energy efficiency standards by more than 15 percent. Because of our commitment to sustainability, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have awarded Jamboree the Regional Energy Star Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing for the past three years.

Another compelling benefit of green communities is protecting resident health. Jamboree is reducing sources of indoor air pollution and chemicals in its building materials and making enhancements in central heating/cooling systems to maintain a healthier indoor environment. Our general contractors are instrumental in implementing sustainable practices and features in all phases of construction. Many of these energy-saving and health conscious elements simply require resourcefulness and creativity—not excessive expense.

Sustainability not only makes environmental and health sense, but it makes sense financially. We know from our experience that building green improves the economic feasibility of residential developments. The financial value of melding sustainability with affordability is emphasized in great detail by the Enterprise Communities Partnership’s 2009 study. Based on years of research, Enterprise published “Incremental Cost, Measurable Savings: Enterprise Green Communities Criteria,” a first-of-its-kind study showing the cost-effectiveness of sustainability in affordable housing. The study estimates that the lifetime savings from sustainability far exceeds the initial investment made to incorporate sustainable features into affordable housing. Residents also benefit from the cost-savings.

Jamboree’s sustainable communities

Granite Court is Jamboree’s showcase for multi-faceted sustainability. The award-winning project opened in 2009 and encompasses 71 affordable apartments with sustainable development as a priority. Offering apartments to working families who earn between 30 percent and 60 percent of area median income, Granite Court features a photovoltaic system that powers common areas, and it uses renewable and earth-friendly materials, as well as low-flow plumbing and Energy Star appliances.

Granite Court is also a true urban infill development located near a variety of public transit systems, including the Metrolink commuter train, city and county bus lines, and the John Wayne Airport. Designed to bring employees closer to their workplace, it is located within the Irvine Business Complex, a 4,000-acre district that encompasses 4,500 companies employing more than 110,000 people.

Financing affordable housing projects is not for the faint-of-heart. Granite Court is a perfect example of the multi-layered funding package necessary to make affordable housing pencil out. Financing for the $32.5 million project was a collaborative effort. Funders included the City of Irvine, the California Department of Housing & Community Development’s Multifamily Housing Program, the County of Orange Housing and Community Services Department, Union Bank of California, and MMA Financial Inc. Additionally, Jamboree was awarded more than $6.3 million in Proposition 46 funding from the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

Whatever the funding source, the importance of sustainability is playing a more prevalent role in affordable housing financing. For example, the new rules issued by the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee are very specific in the types of sustainability measures that affordable housing developers seeking LIHTCs must include in their project plans. The menu of measures from which the developer can choose to satisfy the sustainability requirements include photovoltaic generation that offsets resident loads; solar hot water for all residents with individual water meters; a project-specific maintenance manual, including replacement specifications and operating information of all green-building features; and certifying building management staff in sustainable building operations per BPI Multifamily Building Operator or equivalent training program.

Most recently, we have taken our sustainability commitment one step further by planning development of our two newest workforce housing communities in the cities of Brea, Calif. and Claremont, Calif., which are designed to be LEED-certified. Bonterra in Brea will provide 94 new apartments for Brea’s workforce, estimated at 7,500 workers within 1.5 miles of the site. Bonterra is a walkable community designed to help preserve open space and offer pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly neighborhoods.

In Claremont, Courier Place’s 76 apartments represent a development milestone for Jamboree by helping to pioneer a new generation of housing that will be sustainable, affordable and multi-generational. Courier Place also responds to California’s greenhouse gas law SB 375 that requires new residential development to be located near public transit to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and carbon emissions.

Site location can be one of the most important factors in a project’s sustainability tool kit, and Courier Place’s location within walking distance of a Metrolink commuter train station and downtown services is key to its sustainable character. Both Bonterra and Courier Place will meet the new CALGreen regulations and will exceed Title 24 energy efficiency standards by more than 15 percent.

Creative thinking and design can open the door to unique ways to improve sustainability. Jamboree’s newest affordable project in Buena Park, Calif., is an urban infill project that features a live green roof over the parking area that will reduce the “heat island effect,” and it will also help reduce and cleanse storm water runoff. The rectangular green roof spans the interior 142-space parking area and creates more than 20,000 square feet of green open space to accommodate a variety of native plantings and decorative hardscape. This project is scheduled to be under construction later this year.

Michael Massie is housing development manager at Jamboree Housing Corp. in Irvine, Calif.

To comment on this story, e-mail Diana Mosher at [email protected]

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