HOLIDAY

Green Meets Social Equity with Affordable Housing

Utilizing the GreenPoint Rating System can help in achieving sustainable building

By John Egan

The intersection of green building concepts and affordable housing design and construction often gets overlooked. There are also common misconceptions that green building is overly expensive and that it is overly challenging to incorporate green concepts into affordable housing project budgets. Reality check… you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other; you can incorporate green concepts and ennoble the residents of your affordable housing projects with affordability! 

Taking on sustainable design concepts and adhering to green standards can actually be more cost-effective for both developers and residents. How? By using durable and recycled materials and green solutions that will lower energy bills and require less maintenance – you’ll also qualify for various levels of green certification. 

With continuous advancements in sustainable building and increasing options for green solutions, architects and builders are finding innovative ways of fusing green building and affordable housing together. Today, it’s possible to keep a tighter budget while achieving greater efficiencies and getting the best living solutions. 

Conceived for the veteran-homeless population, the RISE apartments create unique spaces where social equity meets green construction and is a prime example of affordable housing and green building working in harmony. The five-story building provides 57 units of affordable housing, and the ground level includes a 3,400 sq. ft commercial space that serves as the new headquarters for Rise Financial Pathways, a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution that offers ways to build wealth for historically underserved residents and small business owners throughout Los Angeles.

“In designing the community, special elements were taken into account to address livability, comfort, and safety of the residents, with the goal to provide a high quality and affordable place to live to those with the greatest need. RISE Apartments will achieve GreenPoint Rated Gold certification,”stated Caitlin Barrow, Project Manager.

The GreenPoint rating system grades a building across 5 different categories from water, energy, and resources to community, and IAQ/Health. Working with a GreenPoint Rater, we identified sustainable and best management practices to implement. For instance, the building features Solar Hot Water Systems that transfer thermal energy to preheat domestic hot water, reducing the use of natural gas. The building also has low-VOC and high durability finishes to increase its useful life and reduce long-term construction waste. 

The GreenPoint Rated checklist played an important role throughout the process, helping us pinpoint design features and construction practices that we wanted to apply to the project, which were then implemented to help us achieve Green Certification. RISE’s allotted parking is an example, as the decision to locate the building within a ½ mile from local transit and significantly reduce parking spaces was based upon the GreenPoint Rated checklist. Numerous solutions that are not covered in the rating system but enhance the living solutions and elevate the intangible aspects of the building were also incorporated.

The RISE Apartments are developed by Highridge Costa Development Company and designed by Egan|Simon Architecture. We situated and massed the building with health as a priority while maximizing the buildable area and unit count. The positive aspects that natural light and airflow have on mental health played a big role in our vision. A sun study from summer to winter solstices was conducted to harness the benefits of natural light. From the study’s results, the exterior spaces were designed both in direct sunlight and partial shade, for individual contemplation and group exercise, such as yoga. The rooftop was uniquely designed to maximize natural sunlight in the courtyard, allowing sunlight to reach deeper into the building. The courtyard captures the prevailing East/West natural breeze.  

The building includes rooftop gardens, in addition to the courtyard, to foster greater community cohesion and provide space for people to interact and enjoy the health benefits of the outdoors. To further define the uniqueness of “home,” The Long Family Foundation is commissioning an artist to paint a four-story mural on the building’s elevator tower. When complete, the RISE Apartments will become a community asset, which will serve hundreds of individuals over the lifetime of the building, with an emphasis on green construction and natural health benefits.

As you can see, affordable housing and green can live harmoniously and provide access to a higher level of social equity for residents and the community.

John S. Egan is a board member AIA|LA and Principal of Egan Simon architecture, one of the leading affordable housing design firms in Southern California. John can be reached at jegan@egansimon.com

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