Feature Article

Greening Affordable Housing

America is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. A family supported by one full-time minimum-wage earner cannot afford rent for the average two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S., according to the nonprofit Enterprise Foundation, which supports local organizations building affordable housing around the country. In many parts of the nation, two or three full-time salaries are not enough, reports the Foundation, and housing costs are on the rise, even in parts of the country experiencing severe job losses.

According to the 2004

State of the Nation’s Housing report, produced by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, nearly one-third of all U.S. households are moderately cost burdened, spending 30% or more of their income on housing. Thirteen percent are severely cost burdened, spending half or more of their income on housing. And the situation shows no signs of improving: the number of cost-burdened families rose by 67% between 1998 and 2004, according to the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the nonprofit National Housing Conference. Given these statistics, it’s not surprising that some people are priced out of housing altogether: on any given night, according to the

State of the Nation’s Housing, 850,000 people are homeless; and between 2.5 and 3.5 million people are homeless at some point within a given year. One in every four Americans is suffering housing cost burdens, homelessness, substandard living conditions, or overcrowding, according to the Enterprise Foundation.

Though the challenge is daunting, it is also galvanizing. In the affordable housing crisis, we have an opportunity to answer the need with green buildings. Environmentally responsible building benefits not only the environment but tenants and homeowners as well. By improving the efficiency with which these buildings operate, we reduce utility bills, making housing more affordable for a greater portion of the population. By improving the durability of these buildings, we extend their lives and reduce the costs of keeping them viable, safe, and healthy living spaces. And by designing these buildings to safeguard the health of their occupants, we improve the quality of life for those people with least access to quality healthcare.

 

Published March 1, 2005