James Rouse, founder of Enterprise Community Partners, would have been 100 years old on April 26. His ambitious goal for all Americans to have decent and affordable housing continues to inspire those who work at the nonprofit.
“Knowing what we can do today and pushing ourselves to what the world is going to be like 10 years from now and beyond” is a focus for Thomas Osdoba, vice president of green initiatives at Enterprise since January 2013.
Osdoba is new to the affordable housing industry, previously serving as founder and principal of TAO Strategies, a management consultancy focused on sustainability, social enterprise, and new business development, from 2008 to 2012.
“The commitment to sustainability in the industry is very strong, and I think like many places it has gone through the first generation of sustainability,” he says. “But the next phase of that is more reflective. We need to crack the nut of sustainability, develop strategy, invest, and commit to the long haul.”
Enterprise has invested $2.9 billion in grants, loans, and equity to support approximately 37,627 green affordable units, including retrofits, since its Green Communities program began.
“This is the 10th year of Enterprise Green Communities. [The anniversary has] created an opportunity to reflect and celebrate what we’ve achieved and what we want to accomplish in the next 10 years,” says Osdoba.
The first generation of Enterprise Green Communities was built around its criteria and standards. And about five years ago, the nonprofit sounded a call to action to make all affordable housing green by 2020.
“We are still committed to the 2020 goal,” Osdoba says. “We recognize that it was an aspirational goal to engage the industry and seek to improve how affordable housing is being built and operated.”
But the next generation, he says, will be to provide additional resources and tools as well as more organizational building for the developers the nonprofit works with.
“It’s not simply about the building, but the organizations and the people within the buildings,” he says.
Enterprise is becoming a more active driver in finding building and financing solutions for affordable green housing, and Osdoba has started to put some ambitious plans in place.
Enterprise joined the Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) expansion of the Better Buildings Challenge to the multifamily residential sector as a financial ally. The firm hopes to work closely with HUD to help unlock incentives in the affordable housing multifamily sector that have yet to be tapped.
The nonprofit is creating a plan to expand and deepen what it can do in terms of connecting people in affordable housing to economic opportunities that are non-housing related. The progression of sustainability in cities is an opportunity to connect community development to that work, Osdoba says.
Almost all cities have created plans over the past 10 to 15 years, and they’ve started to recognize that you can’t solve energy, water, and waste issues one building at a time, you need to craft neighborhood approaches.
“We’re exploring what the opportunities are to put these two together, how we can help cities achieve these benefits by bringing affordable housing to their attention,” Osdoba says.
He adds that Enterprise Green Communities has spent the past six months identifying where it is able to experiment with localities. The first focus areas will be in Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles.
“There’s a combination of project development—scoping out scale and engaging property owners—there’s a policy and institutional piece, and then there’s the finance and capital component of that,” Osdoba says. “How do we create the right type of financing platform for the neighborhood?”
Another focus has been around renewable energy and what it means for the affordable housing industry. Enterprise has been involved with more than 50 properties with solar photovoltaics over the past year.
“We’re analyzing what [renewables] mean from the performance perspective and how they are starting to disrupt utilities and energy markets,” he says. “Affordable housing could be an attractive place to install solar in terms of community models.”
Enterprise also launched a seven-year study on green housing and resident health, with an emphasis on families and respiratory health. The study, launched last summer and funded by The JPB Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and Wells Fargo, will target affordable green communities in Cleveland, New York, and San Francisco.
Enterprise expects to start getting results in about three years to quantify what green housing means for residents’ health. “If we can impact the health of young people, that will have a lifelong benefit,” Osdoba adds.