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Blueprint for Green Affordable Housing is a guide for housing developers, advocates, public agency staff, and the financial community that offers specific guidance on incorporating green building strategies into the design, construction, and operation of affordable housing developments. A completely revised and expanded second edition of the groundbreaking 1999 publication, this new book focuses on topics of specific relevance to affordable housing including:

  • how green building adds value to affordable housing
  • the integrated design process
  • best practices in green design for affordable housing
  • green operations and maintenance
  • innovative funding and finance
  • emerging programs, partnerships, and policies

Edited by national green affordable housing expert Walker Wells and featuring a foreword by Matt Petersen, president and chief executive officer of Global Green USA, the book presents 12 case studies of model developments and projects, including rental, home ownership, special needs, senior, self-help, and co-housing from around the United States. Each case study describes the unique green features of the development, discusses how they were successfully incorporated, considers the project's financing and savings associated with the green measures, and outlines lessons learned.
Blueprint for Green Affordable Housing is the first book of its kind to present information regarding green building that is specifically tailored to the affordable housing development community.
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Editorial Reviews


"This book from Global Green USA serves as a guide for housing developers, advocates, public agency staff, and the financial community that offers specific guidance on incorporating green building strategies into the design, construction, and operation of affordable housing developments."

"An intensely practical book...Can also serve as a quick crib sheet for green building in general. It includes easily accessible checklists."
President, Jonathan Rose Companies - Jonathan Rose

"Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing is a wonderful book—both practical and visionary, it aspires to inspire and guide its readers. It provides the designer or developer who wishes to build green affordable housing with clear steps and detailed case studies. Both newcomers and experienced practitioners will find much to learn from the rich information in this book."
Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College - David W. Orr

"Green building is transforming how we design and build. Global Green USA aims to make green design affordable and accessible for everyone. True to its message, the Blueprint is full of practical and inspiring good sense about how to improve the lot of those who need it most by joining green design with fundamental human needs."
Actor and Board Member, Enterprise Community Partners - Edward Norton

"Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing provides critical insight into the necessity of integrating our concern for the environment and the goals of community development. More importantly, the book shows how to put this philosophy into practice."
FAIA, President and CEO, Mithun - Bert Gregory

"This is a book to help affordable housing providers, designers, contractors, and advocates create healthy, livable, resource-efficient places for people. In today's world, each of us must be a citizen of our planet, taking the green path to minimize climate change and help protect our global systems. Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing is an excellent guide for that journey."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597261395
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 6/26/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 10.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Global Green USA is a national environmental organization focused on creating a safe sustiainable world. Through the Green Affordable Housing Initiative, launched in 1996, Global Green, promotes green affordable housing through education, technical assistance, policy development, and advocacy.

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Read an Excerpt

Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing

By Walker Wells


Copyright © 2007 Global Green USA
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59726-139-5


Making the Case for Green Affordable Housing

The greening of affordable housing forges a strong link between social justice and environmental sustainability, and connects the well-being of people with the well-being of the environment, thus building on the core social and economic values of affordable housing development.

Housing is a basic human necessity—one that is explicitly identified in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


One of the most pressing issues facing communities throughout the United States is the lack of safe, decent, and affordable housing. As wages stay stagnant while housing costs rise, a growing number of low-income men, women, and families are unable to find a place to live that meets the conventional definition of affordability—housing for which residents pay no more than 30 percent of their gross income toward rent or mortgage payments.

In response to the unmet need for housing accessible to low-income individuals and families, a community of nonprofit and for-profit developers, social service organizations, neighborhood and charity organizations, lenders, financiers, and government agencies has emerged over the past forty years to produce and operate what is now commonly referred to as "affordable housing." As a broadly used term, affordable housing includes rental, for-sale, co-, and transitional housing that is income restricted and usually developed through one or more forms of public subsidy. Affordability is achieved by setting the monthly rent or mortgage payment in accordance with the resident's income, rather than at market rates.

The most common types of affordable housing are:

• Rental housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income individuals and families

• For-sale housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income individuals and families

• Housing for people with special physical or mental health needs

• Housing for people transitioning out of homelessness or medical or psychiatric institutions, or for emancipated foster youth leaving the family foster care system

• Housing for seniors

• "Sweat-equity" or self-help homes

Affordable housing developers rely on a variety of financial programs administered by federal, state, and local public agencies financial institutions and philanthropic organizations to realize their projects. This assistance is often in the form of tax credits, debt with preferential rates or terms, mortgage guarantees, and grants. While this book outlines a green building process and recommended practices that apply to all types of affordable housing, we emphasize the most common type of affordable housing developed in the United States—income-restricted rental housing funded through a combination of tax credits, preferential debt, grants, and other public subsidies.


Green building is the process of creating buildings and supportive infrastructure that reduce the use of resources, create healthier living environments for people, and minimize negative impacts on local, regional, and global ecosystems.

The construction and operation of affordable housing projects, like other building types, consume large quantities of resources, resulting in adverse effects on the natural environment. For example, the annual impacts of building construction and operation in the United States include the following

• 40 percent of U.S. energy use

• 35 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide production, a major contributor to global warming

• 30 percent of wood and raw materials

• 25 percent of water use

• 20 – 40 percent of solid waste

In addition, over 30 percent of buildings have poor indoor air, which is cause for concern given that people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. Many building products have negative impacts on human health through the release of toxins, either during the manufacturing process or after installation. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), many of which are known carcinogens, are common in pressed wood products, paints, solvents, and adhesives. One of the most common VOCs, formaldehyde, is present in most particleboard, melamine, medium-density fiberboard, and plywood used for cabinetry and trim. Other VOCs, such as acetone, benzene, toluene, and perchloroethylene, can impact the nervous and respiratory systems, especially in vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly, and alone or in combination with mold, dust, and pet dander, be a trigger for asthma. Building operation also has health implications. For example, burning coal to generate electricity releases mercury into the atmosphere; which eventually finds its way into the oceans, then into fish, and finally into our bodies when we eat the fish. Elevated mercury levels in pregnant women harm brain development in hundreds of thousands of unborn children annually. Conventional building often burdens low-income families and property managers with high monthly utility bills and significant ongoing maintenance and replacement expenses.

As affordable housing developers across the country become aware of these environmental, health, and economic issues, they are turning to green building as a way to lower operating costs, create healthier living environments, and minimize local, regional, and global environmental impacts. Examples of a diverse range of affordable housing projects from across the country can be seen in the photographs in this chapter.

Green building addresses five core issue areas: (1) smart land use; (2) water efficiency and management; (3) energy efficiency; (4) resource-efficient materials; and (5) healthy indoor environmental quality. See chapter 3, where these core issues are discussed in more detail. Some specific strategies include the following:

• Building in communities with existing services and infrastructure

• Reusing centrally located land and rehabilitating historic buildings

• Locating projects close to public transit and community amenities to reduce car dependency

• Producing the most compact and efficient units possible to reduce material use and the amount of space needing heating and cooling

• Reducing construction waste through materials reuse or recycling

• Reducing energy consumption through well-designed buildings and efficient appliances and fixtures

• Reducing water consumption both indoors and in landscaping

• Improving the quality and reducing the volume of stormwater

• Using materials that do minimal harm to people and the environment during manufacture, use, and disposal

• Increasing durability by minimizing moisture penetration.

• Improving indoor air quality through good ventilation and use of nontoxic materials and finishes

• Reducing the heat island effect through reflective roof and paving and planting trees.

• Establishing maintenance practices that reduce use of pesticides, fertilizers, and harmful cleaning chemicals.


Sustainability has three core components—economics, social equity, and the environment. Affordable housing diretly addresses two of those aspects: economic stability and social equity. Integrating green building enables developers to address the third environmental component that has not traditionally been seen as an integral part of affordable housing development.

A green building approach is consistent with the mission of most affordable housing developers, and most community development corporation mission statements include language about ensuring that low-income people have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing. For example, Mercy Housing California gives its mission as "to create and strengthen healthy communities through the provision of quality, affordable, service-enriched housing for individuals and families who are economically poor." California's Eden Housing states its mission as "to build and maintain high-quality, well-managed, service-enriched affordable housing communities that meet the needs of lower-income families, seniors, and persons with disabilities."

Though neither mission statement has explicit language addressing the impact of the building itself on the well-being of residents, the core concepts need only be expanded slightly to do so. The definition of safe housing should include provision of a living space that is healthy, not just physically secure. Decent should include the assurance that low-income families are not disproportionately exposed to toxic materials, mold, extremes of heat or cold, or noise. Affordable should include the ongoing costs of utilities and maintenance, not just the purchase price or monthly rent. Finally, the idea of community should include a connection to the natural environment.

Combining green building and affordable housing offers a number of direct and indirect benefits to residents and owners of affordable housing and to the larger community. The spheres of benefits green building provides to affordable housing are depicted in Figure 1.10. Direct benefits include utility cost savings, healthier living environments, and increased durability. Utility costs for low-income families can be up to 25 percent of expenses after rent or mortgage payments—more than what is spent on education or health care—as compared to approximately 5 percent of net income for middle-class families. Energy and water savings enable low-income residents to shift financial resources to higher-priority items such as more nutritious food, health care, and education, or to move up financially by saving toward the purchase of a home. Locating projects close to transit helps reduce the financial and environmental impacts of driving and vehicle ownership. Avoiding the need for a second car can save a family approximately $3,200 annually. The health benefits are also crucial, given studies that show a higher rate of asthma among low-income children and attribute asthma incidents to aspects of the indoor environment. Healthy residents also lessen the burden on the overall health care system.

Other, less direct benefits of green affordable housing include support for regional issues such as solid waste management through construction waste recycling programs or use of recycled-content materials, and improved water quality through on-site treatment and retention of stormwater. Global benefits include reduced energy use, thus lowering the amount of carbon dioxide—one of the main climate change gases—entering the atmosphere, or forest preservation by using sustainably harvested wood.

Because projects are typically owned and operated by the same organization for at least fifteen years (the compliance period for the federal low-income housing tax credit), and often much longer, affordable housing developers are able to use a long-term-life-cycle approach to design, which is one of the core tenets of green building. With this time horizon, a high-efficiency boiler with a seven- to ten-year payback is a viable choice, as the owner would capture at least five to eight years of savings. But the same system would likely not be a viable choice for a market-rate developer with a time horizon of three years or less.

Being able to look at benefits over the long term gives affordable housing developers the unique opportunity to view the full range of green building strategies and their associated benefits in a comprehensive way in order to focus on those that are the best fit for the developer, the residents, the community, and the larger environment.


The goal of this book is to provide in one location the information needed by a developer, designer, public agency staff, housing advocate, lender, or other housing stakeholder seeking to incorporate green strategies into an affordable housing development. To that end, Chapter 1 describes the specific benefits green building brings to housing developments, and delineates the points of compatibility and overlay between green and affordability approaches. To demystify green building, Chapter 2 offers a detailed outline of the integrated design process, and Chapters 3 and 4 provide specific recommendations for best practices in green design, construction, and operation. Chapter 5 explains how to pay for the green features, through both existing and new sources of financing and by using a life-cycle approach to design and budgeting. Case studies that span the many types of affordable housing projects show how to put all the pieces together.

By providing practical information drawn from actual projects and the experiences of Global Green staff over the past decade, we hope this book will be a catalyst enabling individuals, organizations, and agencies to make the commitment to go green.


The Integrated Design Process

An integrated approach to green building is crucial to the success of any green project. Green building strategies should be incorporated into a project from the very beginning of the development process. This means considering the green building implications when reviewing potential sites and developing the initial pro forma financial analysis. Identifying the green options early gives time to check for consistency with the requirements of the expected local, state, and federal funding sources and to identify additional sources if needed. The long-term ownership of most affordable housing means that the developer is often responsible for the operation of the project for many years. Good early decision making is critical in obtaining the greatest benefit from the green measures and ensuring that the building systems and materials continue to provide benefits over the long term.

The key components of the integrated design process are as follows:

• Start early: Explore green strategies from the very beginning of the project's budgeting, programming, and conceptual design process.

• Foster collaboration: Engage all members of the design and development team in the green building conversations.

• Make a commitment: Convey and reiterate the importance of following green principles and the integrated design process.

• Set clear goals: Provide specific direction on how the project should perform.

• Enable feedback: Establish a communication structure that allows continuous review of the green concepts as the project is refined.

• Analyze costs: Review costs on an ongoing basis to ensure that the savings generated by integration are captured in the project financials.

• Follow-through: Carry the green concepts into the plans, specifications, construction practices, and operations.

Using an integrated approach requires investment of additional collaboration and design time at the beginning of a project to thoroughly consider and react to the many green options and interrelationships. The cost of integrating green building into a project increases over time as the project moves through the various phases of design (see Figure 2.1). In the long run, an integrated approach ensures that the design components work together effectively and efficiently, to satisfy project goals ranging from energy efficiency to healthy indoor air to environmental protection.

For first-time green builders, the integrated design process will be unfamiliar, and the team may need time to get comfortable with the process before becoming fully engaged. But even for experienced green developers, there are always new design strategies, systems, or materials to explore. In either case, a well-structured process that builds on past experiences, local examples, and national resources, and which is led by a knowledgeable green building advisor or committed member of the design team, will generate innovative and viable ideas for improving building performance while minimizing additional costs.

How Is the Integrated Design Process Different?

The conventional design process is linear and focused on problem solving, through the introduction of specialized knowledge. The design effort is typically driven by the architect, who makes a large number of critical project decisions, often using generalized experience from previous past projects, traditional rules of thumb, or standard assumptions. The dominant goal at the early stage of a project is meeting the program—providing a predetermined number of dwelling units, community areas, leasable commercial space, and parking spaces. Many of the fundamental aspects of the project—height, massing, orientation, allocation of space, and location of uses—are decided by the architect and developer without input from other professionals.


Excerpted from Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing by Walker Wells. Copyright © 2007 Global Green USA. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
CHAPTER 1 - Making the Case for Green Affordable Housing,
CHAPTER 2 - The Integrated Design Process,
CHAPTER 3 - Best Practices in Green Design,
CHAPTER 4 - Green Operations and Maintenance,
CHAPTER 5 - Costs and Financing,
CHAPTER 6 - Looking Forward: Programs, Partnerships, and Policies,
APPENDIX A - Resources,
APPENDIX B - Glossary,
APPENDIX C - Lease Addendum Example,
APPENDIX D - Solar RFP Example,

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