Consider this: 70% of design decisions are made during the first 10% of the design process—a fact thats critically relevant to organizations like Enterprise who are committed to creating healthy and sustainable homes. To maximize time and resources, planning ahead is essential. The best-designed housing is completely focused on meeting human needs. With that in mind, we worked with an energetic group of partners both inside and outside of our industry to create the 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, which is publicly rolling out now.

Thomas Osdoba, vice president of green initiatives at Enterprise Community Partners.
Thomas Osdoba, vice president of green initiatives at Enterprise Community Partners.

Introduced in 2004, the Criteria emerged as the first national standard for affordable housing developers to take advantage of the economic, health, and environmental benefits of green building without compromising affordability. Working with partners like the American Heart Association, Enterprise aims to make the Criteria the required baseline for all affordable housing development nationwide.

Katie Swenson is vice president of design initiatives at Enterprise Community Partners.

For the first time, the Criteria include resilient design features to maintain livable conditions during climate change, natural disasters, power loss, and other interruptions in available services. And, they now harness the power of design to improve residentshealth through new mandatory “Active Design” criteria including simple, cost-effective measures like improving stairwell access and visibility. Low-income communities experience disproportionately high rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and mental health issues. Merely two minutes of daily stair-climbing burns enough calories to prevent annual weight gain, while prominent stairwells encourage social interactions, which can improve mental health. 

Criteria-certified apartments will see improved health and well-being outcomes for residents through reduced exposure to pollutants, improved connectivity to services and walkable neighborhoods, and good lighting. The benefits extend beyond the residents to the neighboring communities by supporting local services and activating neighborhood streets, as well as improving water quality and reducing the impact of storm water runoff on neighboring sewer systems.

By considering these issues at the very start of the design process, Enterprise has found that it does not cost more to build to our standard, and the economic benefits are substantial throughout the life of the property. 

So far, we've deployed nearly $3 billion to create more than 38,000 green homes, built the green building capacity of more than 550 organizations, and transformed local, state, and federal policies to support green affordable housing development. We've found that Criteria-certified homes are 15% more efficient than conventionally built homes, reducing energy use by almost 2,000 kilowatt hours and greenhouse gas emissions by 1.4 metric tons per home per year. Just with homes certified in 2014, savings are equivalent to removing 2,300 passenger vehicles from the roads or adding 9,077 acres of U.S. forest land.

The 2015 Criteria were built on experience and research with our partners over the past 10-plus years. Support was provided by a network of partners who contributed to a technical working group, a criteria advisory group, and a policy working group. Advisors included the U.S. Green Building Council, the University of Virginia, the Health Impact Project, the American Heart Association, and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 

We believe home is the foundation of opportunity and a fair shot at success in life. Thats why Enterprise has set a goal to end housing insecurity in the United States within a generation. That means no more homelessness and no more families paying more than half of their income on housing. As a downpayment toward that goal, by 2020 Enterprise will help provide opportunity to 1 million low-income families through quality affordable housing in thriving neighborhoods. The 2015 Criteria bring us closer to that goal.

Together, we will end housing insecurity, and we ask every Affordable Housing Finance reader to join us.