Better Buildings Challenge Multifamily Newsletter: July 2021

In This Issue:

Key Announcements

  • Energy efficiency programs are missing out on the untapped savings potential of multifamily buildings, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE’s) latest topic brief, High-Impact Programs Targeting Regional Multifamily Energy Savings Opportunities. The topic brief profiles four multifamily utility efficiency programs that are implementing strategies for deeper, comprehensive energy-saving measures.
  • As we head into drought season, learn how to reduce water waste and increase water efficiency:
    • Join the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday, July 20, 2021 at 2:00 PM EDT for their webinar When in Drought: Lessons Learned. The discussion will center around the programmatic changes that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California made during the last drought to encourage water use efficiency, water conservation outreach, and advertising strategies
    • Watch recorded webinars from the EPA’s WaterSense program. The following webinars are geared towards multifamily properties:
      • EPA’s 1-100 Water Score for Multifamily Buildings – What’s My Score and How Do I Improve It?
      • Introducing WaterSense & Quantity Quotes
      • WaterSense and LEED Housing Programs

Watersense logo

Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future’s Big Reach: Accomplishments and Key Strategies

Since 2013, all member organizations of Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF) have joined the inaugural cohort of multifamily partners taking part in the Better Buildings Challenge to reduce their energy usage by 20 percent over 10 years, while also committing to the “Big Reach,” an ambitious initiative to reduce their collective energy and water usage by 20 percent portfolio-wide by 2020.

816 properites and 68,060 homes upgraded. 29,673 homes built/rehabbed. 46,598 homes retrofitted. Renewable energy installed at 146 properties.

These affordable housing sustainability leaders recently released a report on their accomplishments (see graphic) and identified three key strategies that drove these outcomes:

  1. Prioritizing performance and utilizing green building standards in new construction and major rehabs
  2. Undertaking discretionary retrofits to upgrade equipment outside of a capital event using state- and utility-funded efficiency programs, pay-from-savings programs, and government and foundation grants
  3. Incorporating renewable energy such as solar panels or geothermal, particularly in states with supportive clean energy policies

The report emphasizes the crucial decision to adopt a time-bound, numeric target, which drove organizational culture change and was an impetus for SAHF and its members to influence the policy and program environment in which affordable housing operates. The goal pushed SAHF to go beyond the opportunistic, property-by-property approach typically taken in resource-constrained affordable multifamily housing. Instead, the Big Reach required substantial organizational change, including investments in sustainability staff as well as data infrastructure and benchmarking capacity. These efforts are helping to pave the way for sustainable development and property operations to be embraced as a norm—and a key preservation strategy—in the multifamily affordable housing sector.

Other key takeaways:

  • In planning for new construction and rehabs, SAHF/Challenge partners found success in achieving high building performance through Passive House principles. The Community Builders and Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) have built or are currently building properties that adhere to the five performance principles of the Passive House standard: airtightness, ventilation, waterproofing, heating and cooling, and electrical loads.

  • To finance and implement solar PV, National Housing Trust (NHT) created a separate legal entity called NHT Renewable. The arrangement allows NHT to overcome regulatory and administrative barriers to solar installations, take advantage of tax credits for affordable housing, and become its own solar developer, manager, and owner. NHT has assisted several other Better Buildings Challenge affordable housing partners to do the same: to date six Challenge partners have installed 8.4 MW of solar PV using the same financing model.

  • Part of SAHF’s Big Reach approach was to shift organizational cultures in affordable housing, moving sustainability from a special, side project to a process integrated into all aspects of housing development, ownership, and management. SAHF/Challenge partners employed green operations and maintenance (O&M) practices to proactively monitor for energy or water waste and evaluate whether systems were performing efficiently. They also used resident engagement strategies from SAHF’s resident engagement toolkit to empower residents to make sustainable choices. Community Housing Partners, for instance, developed a process for involving residents in decision making for a property rehabilitation.

Read SAHF’s The Big Reach report.

Spotlight on Partner Projects

  • Challenge partner Standard Communities recently completed a comprehensive LEED and Enterprise Green Communities certified rehabilitation of Fort Chaplin Park Apartments, a campus of 549 affordable housing units in Washington, D.C. The site has a 1.2 MW community solar system with benefits flowing directly to residents—participating residents are expected to see utility bill reductions of 50 percent over the next 15 years. Energy conservation measures included HVAC split systems with a SEER of 15.75 and AFUE of 96 percent, high efficiency gas-fired water heaters, ENERGY STAR® appliances, 100 percent LED lighting, high efficiency insulated vinyl windows, and a green roof. Standard Communities’ acquisition and rehabilitation of Fort Chaplin Park was the largest tax-exempt bond and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit financed preservation of affordable housing transaction in Washington, D.C. history.

Fort Chaplin Park Apartments in Washington, D.C.

Standard Communities’ Fort Chaplin Park Apartments in Washington, D.C.

  • Challenge partner NHT Communities completed a $7.5 million retrofit of Mass Place Apartments in Washington, D.C. This 160-unit property was retrofitted to include a high efficiency central plant, insulated roof system, building automations, LED lighting, water efficiency measures, and air sealing improvements designed to collectively reduce energy use by 20 percent annually.
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This material is based upon work supported by funding under an award with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. Neither the United States Government, nor any of its employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately-owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the U.S. Government or any agency thereof. Opinions expressed on the HUD Exchange are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of, or a position that is endorsed by, HUD or by any HUD program.