BE+ is happy to start blogging about some of our ongoing community roundtables with the help of our summer interns. Thank you to Lynn Sleiman for this blog entry on the Health & Wellness Community’s recent roundtable on affordable housing.

The July Health & Wellness roundtable examined the intersection of healthy buildings and affordable housing. Stephanie Horowitz, Managing Director of ZeroEnergy Design, started the discussion and emphasized the importance of focusing on the design of homes, energy performance, and indoor air quality. Easy material changes like avoiding vinyl were mentioned. Mary Ayala, Senior Program Director at Enterprise elaborated on a sustainable building standard, the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria. She explained that its goal is to increase the housing supply, advance racial equity and build resilience and upward mobility. Additionally, the Health Action Plan (HAP) was mentioned as a program that promotes healthy lifestyle behavior, and offers designers a decision-making process for coordinating wellbeing in the design.

Clara Fraden, Director of Planning & Development at the City of Cambridge Community Development Department (CDD) mentioned her current work on renovation projects that have cut carbon emissions by half. The Climate Action Plan describes how Cambridge will reduce emissions across the entire city to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The Frank J. Manning Apartments is an example of their work – a partnership with Boston Medical Center and Cambridge Health Alliance for onsite nursing and community wellness that joins into healthcare frameworks. The integrated plan permitted the property to be certified as part of the Enterprise Green Communities program. In total, the project has reduced energy usage by 60%, with over $350,000 in annual operating savings. 

Elana Brochin, Massachusetts Association of Community Development corporations (MACDC) Program Director for Health Equity, brought up the current growth of financial opportunities for low- and moderate-income individuals. That led to the question: What is being done to improve low-income ownership? Are there other mechanisms outside of housing ownership that can provide more stable and reliable multi-generational wealth? These questions guided the conversation as participants emphasized the importance of challenging the mechanism and helping people. The family self-sufficiency program was discussed as a conceivable arrangement for the issue of housing ownership. It advocates for the development of local strategies to facilitate public and private assets that offer assistance to housing choice voucher program participants, and public housing tenants to obtain employment that will enable participating families to attain financial independence. The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), provides a long-term improvement in the lives of low-income families by offering both occupants- and project-based rental subsidies.

Finally, the conversation shifted to the limitation of the green and affordable housing industries in terms of project budgets, timelines, and housing ownership. They concluded the meeting with an emphasis on the impact that we can have on the industry: “There is always an opportunity to have a positive influence, and space to improve practice.”

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