Government agencies are striving to achieve the highest standards for green affordable housing.

Government agencies are striving to achieve the highest standards for green affordable housing.

Efforts to transform a formerly vacant site in the Deanwood neighborhood into an equitable, mixed-income and sustainable development are well under way. With an emphasis on environmentally restorative design, the aim is to achieve the green building performance standards set by the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Living Building Challenge. It will be the first such project in the District to do so.

The pioneering effort is the result of a collaboration between the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), which were selected by ILFI to participate in its Living Building Challenge Affordable Housing Pilot Project program—designed to inspire regular use of the Living Building Challenge in affordable housing development.

In 2014, DHCD, with support from DOEE, partook in a competitive process led by the DC Living Building Challenge Collaborative. Twenty-seven multidisciplinary teams of five participated, with 20 submitting proposal designs—DHCD and DOEE among them.

The lessons learned by the other project teams, which were mostly West Coast-based, and us have been really educational and inspiring as we ramp up to eventually develop the site,” said Molly Simpson, housing affordability and green building program analyst for DOEE and a competition participant.

The goal was to determine how 10 to 15 townhouses slated for Deanwood could be certified as a Living Building Challenge project.

Once the competition wrapped up in the summer of 2015, DHCD and DOEE started thinking about the lengths to which they could feasibly go to make their proposal a reality. We would like to see a truly green and sustainable townhome community in Deanwood that fits into the fabric of the neighborhood and serves the larger community,” explained Simpson.

One of the first steps was applying to the IFLI for technical assistance to explore the logistics of building the proposal with the District serving as developer. They’ve studied associated costs of net-zero energy buildings and Living Building Challenge projects, as well as the long-term financial and health benefits.

“We’ve been trying to push for some deeper green buildings for a number of years now, figuring out how to put the pieces together and show the value proposition to the development community,” said Bill Updike, chief of green building and climate branch at DOEE. “We have actual financials from real projects as a baseline. Even back in 2013, the financials for solar in D.C. were so good that…there were paybacks within three years.”

In D.C., there are already many standards in place for stormwater management and access to public amenities and transportation. Simpson elaborated: “We find that it is fairly easy for our affordable housing developers to meet Green Communities standards [the city’s baseline requirement for green affordable housing development]. That is why we are pushing more and more for folks to think a little outside the box to explore things like [renewable] energy, which offer real benefits not only to the property owners but also to the tenants to reduce their monthly household bills and create a healthier living environment.”

The Ward 7 Deanwood neighborhood is a close-knit community with a number of affordable housing developments and an active Advisory Neighborhood Council (ANC). “One of the exciting things about this project being in Deanwood,” said Updike, “is that two of the first deeply efficient, maybe even net-zero energy homes that were built in D.C. were developed [there]…It’s exciting to have this upwelling of deep green buildings in a specific neighborhood with such an active and passionate citizenry.”

The Deanwood neighborhood is clearly well suited for the pilot project, which goes above and beyond what has been done before while creating healthy, resilient housing for low- and moderate-income families.

- Kiley Jacques

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