Uniting affordability, efficiency in a mixed-use development

Multifamily buildings often have unseen drains on energy
(Photo: Enterprise Community Partners)

When the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) embarked upon the redevelopment of South Lincoln Park Homes, now known as the Mariposa District, DHA took into consideration a number of factors in designing the mixed-income, mixed-use development near public transit: resident health, community heritage, bike lanes and walkways, and open space and parks.

The award-winning development also led the way in energy efficient systems, which included a geothermal energy system and a rooftop solar photovoltaic array. The goal was to decrease energy consumption by up to 50%.

Related: Colorado requires builders to accommodate high-efficiency devices in new homes

For multifamily buildings, hidden energy consumers like heating and cooling systems and larger appliances can account for up to a fifth of operating expenses. Often the most variable monthly cost, they drive home the importance of building design, construction and operations.

Less than two decades ago, energy savings, graywater recycling and environmentally friendly building materials were not central when designing, constructing and rehabbing affordable, multifamily housing. With the launch of the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria in 2005, that dynamic changed as developers, builders and public agencies began to recognize the importance of sustainable, green building methods as a way to reduce operating costs, create healthier communities and reduce environmental impact.

Today, there is a rapidly growing movement to ensure that the energy our buildings use comes from clean and renewable resources, like solar energy. This push toward zero-energy buildings, also known as building electrification, calls for eliminating fossil fuels for functions like heating and cooking, and replacing gas appliances with alternatives that use electricity.

Moving to building electrification while reducing electricity usage poses many health and environmental benefits. However, the transition must be carried out equitably so that communities who hit cost barriers get the support needed to make the switch.

In Enterprise’s 2020 Green Communities Criteria, there is an explicit path to zero energy: reducing energy use, considering renewables and electrification, and moving to zero energy. The path to zero makes it easier for project teams to see where their building is on the journey to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Affordable housing developers in Colorado are leading the way in energy efficient housing for the industry. They’ve been putting these practices into place for several years now because the Colorado Housing Finance Authority has prioritized it. Additionally, the state has adopted a Climate Action Plan that includes achieving 100% renewable energy by 2040. Plus, several jurisdictions including Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins are adopting stronger building energy codes, and builders are prepared to meet and often exceed those minimum standards.

Related: WDRC’s ADU initiative aims to increase affordable housing options

Reducing the amount of energy required to operate the building and switching to clean energy sources provides environmental benefits through reduced greenhouse gas emissions­—while providing healthier living conditions and lowering property operating expenses. Residents, property owners, the surrounding community and the entire planet stand to benefit.

To learn more about the 2020 Criteria and the pathway to zero, visit greencommunitiesonline.org.

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Jennie Rodgers

Jennie Rodgers is vice president and Denver market leader at Enterprise Community Partners Inc. She can be reached at [email protected].

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