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Decarbonization and Fair Housing, Combined

Preservation of Affordable Housing’s C40 Garfield Park project in Chicago

April showers bring May flowers, etc. etc. But we’re more interested in April’s status as Fair Housing Month and the month in which Earth Day takes place (April 22nd.) And we’re especially interested in the interrelationship between the two events.

Fair Housing Month celebrates the 1968 enactment of the Fair Housing Act, which outlawed discrimination in housing. At coUrbanize, we take a broad view of what discrimination entails. In our experience, discrimination can be indirect, often manifesting itself in NIMBYist attitudes toward affordable housing. We strive to deflect these attitudes through community engagement.

Earth Day, first held in 1970, celebrates the planet and encourages initiatives to protect it from climate change.  

Based on what coUrbanize clients are doing, there’s good news to report on both the decarbonization and affordable housing fronts. Many of our clients are undertaking ambitious projects that incorporate or center on affordable housing. Other clients are encouraging great strides toward reducing climate change. And some clients are doing both. In honor of April’s double duty as the month of Earth Day and Fair Housing, we’ll focus on these.  

Let’s start in Chicago, where Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) recently obtained approval from the Chicago Planning Commission for its Garfield Park redevelopment, designed by Perkins & Will and Nia Architects. POAH’s commitment to the City, whose Department of Housing is funding the project, was to build 70-80 affordable apartments and offer 9,000 square feet of retail space.

The design was developed in response to an international competition created by the C40 Network that addresses the organization’s “10 Challenges for Climate.” C40 is a network of city mayors who are “collaborating to deliver the urgent action needed right now to confront the climate crisis.” In its submission, the development team shared its plans for a Passive-House certified, net-zero building with a solar installation to offset much of the energy used in the building and to offer a secondary benefit to tenants – low electric bills.   

Now let’s shift our attention eastward. Just A Start, a community development corporation based in Cambridge, is planning to transform an industrial lot at 52 New Street into 100 affordable apartments for families. The project is notable for two reasons: One, the apartments are intended to be “climate resilient” through such features as stormwater capture and solar energy. Second, this project is the first to be awarded a contract for Cambridge’s Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) program. The program, which was launched in October 2020, reduces the cost of building affordable housing and enables affordable housing developers to better compete on property acquisitions.  

Cambridge residents recognize just how important affordable housing and decarbonization are in improving the city. Another coUrbanize client is the City of Cambridge, which is using our technology to engage residents in the search for a new City Manager. We’ve been struck by how many users are emphasizing the need for the eventual appointee to prioritize affordable housing and address climate challenges. As one user commented, “Between climate change and the housing crisis, Cambridge cannot and will not look the same a decade from now, and the city manager needs to be someone actively interested in driving that change, not just being responsive.” Another said: “Cambridge needs to seize the opportunity to be a leader as green, renewable, and livable city which sets the bar on sustainability.”

We believe, and hope, that developers will pay attention to these kinds of sentiments and that organizations will continue to support affordable housing initiatives that incorporate green elements. So please join us in acknowledging the importance of both the Fair Housing Act and Earth Day. From what we’ve observed there is progress to celebrate.

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