When Portland, Ore.–based REACH Community Development purchased a vacant site in Hillsboro, an area in the state’s “Silicon Forest” that had become increasingly unaffordable, the company had a goal to create a new sustainable model for affordable living that would lower residents’ rent, utility, and transportation expenses.

When the first phase of Orchards at Orenco opened in June 2015, it was able to check all those boxes.

Most notable for the 57-unit, transit-oriented development is that it became the largest certified multifamily Passive House building in North America, receiving PHIUS+ Passive building certification from Passive House Institute US. Passive House is a rigorous standard for attaining a high level of energy efficiency.

According to the developer, the building is expected to achieve a nearly 90% energy reduction for heating and a 60% to 70% reduction of overall energy use compared with a typical building of the same type and size in the Pacific Northwest region.

Ben Sturtz, housing development project manager for REACH, says the building is essentially operating as designed, and residents are seeing lower utility costs. In June, the developer planned to collect and analyze the utility bills for the entire first year.

Other benefits of the design include improved indoor air quality provided by continuous ventilation, improved construction quality reducing risk of moisture, and reduction of noise from the adjacent light-rail line.

“We were amazed by how many residents came into the building who [had] researched it already. A lot of them envisioned it would have better air quality and better health outcomes,” says Sturtz. “We have tried to do as much resident engagement as we can on [the Passive House features].”

In addition to the utility savings, residents are paying two to four times less than the rents of the surrounding multifamily developments in the neighborhood. Forty-nine of the units serve households earning incomes at or below 50% of the area median income (AMI), while the remaining eight received project-based Sec. 8 vouchers from the Housing Authority of Washington County to serve households at or below 30% of the AMI.

Financing for the $14.3 million development primarily included low-income housing tax credits allocated by Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) and tax credit equity from Wells Fargo. The project also received a permanent loan, which included state housing tax credits, from the Network for Oregon Affordable Housing; HOME funds from the Washington County Office of Community Development; grants from OHCS and NeighborWorks America; and energy-efficiency incentives from the Energy Trust of Oregon.

The second phase, with 58 units, which also is being constructed to Passive House standards, is expected to open in late June. The development team is working on financing for a third phase, as well.