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O’Brien & Company helps raise the bar for green building standards in affordable housing.

Helping build the capacity of the affordable housing sector to deliver comfortable, healthy, durable homes with low operating costs addresses both O’Brien & Company’s core mission and our commitment to equity. O’Brien & Company’s focus on improving life cycle ownership costs of buildings through better design and construction processes helps housing providers control their operating expenses and maintain net operating incomes, thus preserving the affordable housing stock. When Enterprise Green Communities Criteria and Washington’s Evergreen Sustainable Development Standards (ESDS) announced they were being updated this year, we knew we wanted to contribute to the process.

Green Communities and ESDS are the green building standards used on affordable housing projects funded by Enterprise, Washington State’s Housing Trust Fund, and numerous subsidized and Low Income Housing Tax Credit programs across the country. Major changes to both include incorporating integrative design; a greater focus on occupant health and well-being; and building resiliency into their standards. O’Brien & Company’s Alistair Jackson has been a contributing member on both teams working to craft the updates.

As longtime advocates for the value of integrative project delivery, O’Brien & Company sees great potential for this new focus on process. We also see great opportunity for teams working on affordable housing projects to become versed in the process, and what it really means and looks like in practice. “If integrative design makes you think of blue sky brainstorming and unmet expectations, this is a new day and it’s time for a new mental model,” says Alistair. “The integrative process is about committing the project team to clearly understood outcome goals – which takes education and communication. Design strategies, construction delivery, and turnover to occupancy are all integrated and accountable to those goals – ensuring that the building you get is the building that will deliver on your financial, social and environmental intentions. Your process can be as big or as small as your resources and your bandwidth allows – it’s both what you do, and how you do what you do that counts!

Enterprise Green Communities launched their 2015 Green Communities Criteria in April, an update from their 2011 Criteria, which O’Brien & Company also supported. Washington’s Department of Commerce, along with a 19-member advisory group known as the Green Team, is working on version 3.0 of the ESDS, which is expected to be finalized in early 2016. ESDS was last revised 5 years ago.

The ESDS Green Team is taking on some big issues with this revision. They are looking to the results during the occupancy phase on past ESDS projects to reveal valuable data that can influence changes to the standard. “It’s become clear to everyone working on the ESDS, and in sustainability in general,” Alistair says, “that the design and project delivery phases of development can’t happen in a vacuum. The occupancy phase is critical—and it’s somewhat different in the affordable housing arena than elsewhere.” ESDS is also addressing the reality of water scarcity; the value of utilities incentives and community solar; the impact of resident education and engagement; and need for building asset management and preservation.

Visit these websites for more information:
Enterprise Green Communities 2015 Criteria
Washington State Housing Finance Commission Newsletter
on the ESDS update

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