Affordable Housing Finance recently caught up with Shelley Poticha, director of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Poticha is responsible for advancing housing and communities that promote affordable, livable, and sustainable living environments. She also provides technical and policy support for energy, green building, and integrated housing and transportation programs at HUD and around the nation. Poticha previously served as president and CEO of Reconnecting America, where she became a national leader for the reform of land use and transportation planning and policy with the goal of creating more sustainable and equitable development, and executive director of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Q: What’s your definition of sustainable housing?

A: We need to redefine people’s notions of housing if we want it to become truly sustainable. To stay competitive, the United States needs to create energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities so that we increase mobility, improve access to jobs, expand educational opportunities, and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation on family incomes.

Q: What role does affordability have in sustainable housing?

A: In the absence of reasonably priced housing, families will continue to drive farther and farther into the edges of our metropolitan regions in search of a place they can afford. This puts strain on transportation infrastructure, challenges localities to provide sufficient services, and consumes huge amounts of fossil fuels that could be preserved if our planning and investment strategies were better aligned.  

Q: What are some key duties or specific goals for the new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities?

A: Our office will foster the development of sustainable, inclusive communities throughout the United States that provide more transportation choices, promote equitable affordable housing, and enhance economic competitiveness. We hope to coordinate federal policies and leverage our investments in communities. Ultimately, we will value communities and neighborhoods while we lift up the innovation from these places and share best practices with the field.

Q: What can affordable housing developers get out of the new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities?

A: The office plays three primary roles related to HUD’s developer partners. First, it is involved in policymaking and program development across HUD that is creating new resources, tools, and incentives—delivered by HUD’s principal program offices—for developers to create greener homes and communities. Second, the office is working with a number of other federal agencies—Energy, Transportation, Labor, Environmental Protection Agency—to develop and implement cross-cutting policies that will provide additional impetus to mainstream green and affordable homes and communities. Third, the office is the primary point of contact for developers and others in the affordable housing industry that wish to bring their ideas, innovations, and experience to bear in partnership with HUD to help ensure the coming clean energy economy includes homes and opportunities for all Americans.

 Q: How will affordable multifamily housing be different 10 years from now, and why?

A: Affordable multifamily housing will be a vital part of a more balanced national housing policy that reflects the realities of demographic changes, evolving consumer preferences, and greater recognition of the environmental benefits. In terms of sustainability, newly constructed multifamily developments will increasingly achieve deep levels of environmental performance, such as 50 percent better energy efficiency, with a significant share going even further to approach net-zero energy usage, through greater use of renewable energy sources. Existing properties, especially those that undergo recapitalization, will routinely achieve substantial energy savings as well, in part through innovative financial structures that leverage energy savings and other environmental attributes, such as greenhouse gas emission reductions. The industry will increasingly understand the importance and develop much greater capacity to address the environmental and quality of life benefits from green approaches to operations and maintenance. Residents will have dramatically more ability to monitor and modify their energy use. Affordable multifamily housing and its industry participants will play an even more pivotal role in creating greener homes and communities across the country.