Green building shouldn’t be a luxury exclusively for high end condo buildings or big showpiece public projects. On the contrary green building is an important way of making housing affordable.

The Housing Authority of Portland (HAP) is taking this idea seriously, in part because of funding now available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Stimulus funding—$250 million over 3 years—has been set aside for retrofitting low-income multi-unit housing, in particular, housing for seniors, disabled people and people who qualify for vouchers to help pay their housing costs.

To help think through the application process and their overall vision for greening their buildings (specifically Sellwood and Gallagher) and operations, Portland held an Eco-Visioning Charette in June. The purpose of the charette was to explore the best thinking on how to bring together their housing development and operations to maximize energy efficiency and reduce impact on climate and the environment.

  • A charette (a French term) refers to a brainstorm session by designers and architects to resolve an unusual or tough design challenge. The point of a charette is to inspire visionary thinking and big ideas that aren’t limited necessarily by budgets or politics. In this case HAP pulled together people who design buildings but also those who operate them to look at ways to improve energy efficiency through design, programming and efficiencies. The charette helped fine tune ideas for HAP’s application for stimulus funding from HUD for retrofits.

    The charette produced some clear principles for HAP’s  proposal to HUD and planning for the future. The Housing Authority of Portland:

    • makes decisions based on long-term, life-cycle thinking that maximizes its return on investment
    • takes a comprehensive approach (social, environmental, and financial) in assessing the cost and value of the services it provides to the Portland community.
    • builds community, both within a building and a neighborhood, through design
    • involves staff and residents in decision making processes
    • values continuous improvement at all levels as it develops a culture of sustainability

    Greening HAP The Plaza

     

    And what about specific design ideas? The charette proposed some specific ideas for water, air quality and energy efficiency for retrofits.  The recommendations fell into two categories. Sustainable rehabilitation requirements:

    • Zero-net energy
    • Closed loop water use
    • Local materials
    • Zero waste

    Greening HAP Water

     

    And strategies that impact well being:

    • 100 percent outside air ventilation
    • Zero-VOC materials
    • Connection to Nature
    • Healthy interaction within the building community
    • Connection to the greater neighborhood and community

    Many of these ideas are consistent with improving overall health and wellness of residents [link] along with improving energy performance of buildings. We’ve seen already from a study completed by the Seattle Housing Authority that these kinds of considerations can accomplish these important goals.

    HAP has submitted its proposals for $10 million in funding from the HUD program and should find out if the retrofitting projects will be funded this fall.