Healthier Affordable Housing Thanks to Fitwel and Fannie Mae
Affordable housing developers have a new reason to prioritize health and safety: it can save them money. The new program Healthy Housing Rewards, from lender Fannie Mae, provides loan recipients with a reduced interest rate when projects achieve certification through the health-promoting program Fitwel (see Fitwel: Science That Works). Fannie Mae is a private–public partnership backed by Congress.
Most residents in affordable rental housing tend to stay longer than those in market rate. Bob Simpson, vice president of affordable and green financing at Fannie Mae, said the program with Fitwel is a chance to make a difference for these households. “It’s very much their home,” said Simpson. “If you have an opportunity to define that place in a way that kids are going to grow up in a healthy environment, you really have to take advantage of that opportunity.”
The Center for Active Design, which manages Fitwel, announced its expansion into the multifamily market at the same time that it announced the Fannie Mae partnership. Previously, the program applied only to commercial offices.
President and CEO Joanna Frank said the programs have a lot in common, but the residential version emphasizes a few different priorities because the science behind it is different. The residential program is based on evidence-backed research on lead safety, control of moisture and mold, and access to healthy food options in nearby grocery stores.
The residential standard applies to both affordable and market-rate housing, but there are upfront costs. “You have to be able to demonstrate return on investment to encourage the use of health-promoting design strategies,” Frank told BuildingGreen. But that’s difficult to do with affordable housing since you can’t charge higher rent for certified properties.
Frank hopes Healthy Housing Rewards will help Fitwel achieve a new scale of impact—“that this is something that reaches every project and just becomes the standard by which everyone is renovating existing projects as well as building new projects.”
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Center for Active Design
Published December 11, 2017