In Oregon, a sustainable path out of an affordable housing crisis
USGBC is currently engaged in Oregon’s efforts to expand the availability of affordable housing—specifically, advocating for such housing to be green and energy-efficient. in line with our mission. USGBC’s commitment to green buildings for all in a generation is reflected in every aspect of the work we do. Currently, over 40 percent of the almost 200,000 LEED-certified homes in the United States are affordable housing units.
We know that housing affordability is not just about being able to pay the rent or mortgage. It is also about being able to afford the utilities as well. That is why LEED’s emphasis on energy and water efficiencies, as well as third-party verification, gives affordable housing developers, community development agencies and the government an excellent tool for providing affordable homes to vulnerable families.
Oregon, like many areas of the United States, is facing a housing affordability crisis. In response to this crisis, the state government and leading local government in 2015 passed a series of appropriations to holistically address the problems of lack of affordable housing and homelessness. One of the programs the Oregon legislature and Governor Kate Brown have funded is $40 million in bonds to build affordable housing, focused on rural communities, communities of color and families with young children served by DHS (Oregon Department of Human Services).
Fifteen families have a safe new place to call home in Ashland, Ore. This new green, affordable community was made possible through the USDA Rural Development’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Program.
During the 2016 short legislative session, the Oregon legislature and the governor’s office are working to outline the program goals and priorities necessary to implement the $40 million bonding program. SB 1582 is the legislative vehicle that will add meat to the bones of the housing program. In addition, through SB 1582, the Oregon Housing Stability Council is also starting to outline program requirements through the LIFT Program.
We have been working with allied groups, including the Earth Advantage Institute, local elected officials, local business members and a lobbying firm to ensure that the bonding includes five green building policy principles:
- A focus on affordability and total value;
- Accountability throughout the building process and beyond;
- Green building standards and rewards for developers;
- Public participation in the planning process; and
- Education for residents to promote environmental stewardship.
I was recently in Salem, Ore., providing testimony before the Housing Stability Council with recommendations to improve the outcome of the LIFT program. The recommendations were well received and allowed USGBC to open a dialogue with the council, legislators and the governor’s office about the need for green building standards as they move forward in addressing their housing affordability and homelessness crisis.
Having a positive impact on Oregon’s program will be a long process, with ample opportunities for the green building community to engage on addressing this important issue.