Building Responsive and Resilient Homes: Enterprise Green Communities Brings Design and Construction Solutions to the Covid-19 Crisis
As affordable housers, how can we work together to invest in a healthy future? We’ve grown accustomed to lifestyle changes to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We can also design and operate our properties to reduce the risk of infection.
For over fifteen years, Green Communities has meant healthy, efficient, environmentally sustainable affordable housing. Healthy and affordable housing is even more important today. The 2020 Criteria provides opportunities for our sector to develop homes that meet many of the needs of this current crisis and others to come.
In this blog, we’ll highlight actionable strategies that fit within three themes critical to our communities:
- People need to access necessary services
- Affordable housing must create healthy indoor environments
- Clear communication and continued engagement between property managers and residents is vital
Accessing Necessary Services
For our community members who don’t have a car, daily travel during the Covid-19 pandemic can be more time consuming and feel more dangerous. Yet, it’s still necessary to get medication, food and other basic needs. Public transit riders may be faced with overcrowded situations at a time where we’re being asked to social distance1, especially as many public transit systems have reduced hours and routes.
Housing developments can include low- to no- cost solutions to reduce the number of times residents must leave their homes during a time of crisis, like the Covid-19 pandemic. There are two strategies from the 2020 Criteria that any project team can include in their projects to help residents meet their needs while also reducing their interaction with the general public. The first criterion is 2.12 Access to Fresh, Local Foods and the second criterion is 2.15a and b Access to Broadband.
Accessing Fresh, Local Foods
Research shows that increasing access to locally grown food can lead to people eating more fresh foods and vegetables. Increasing fresh food can lower diet-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes in both adults and children. We have seen that while Covid-19 does not discern between those who enjoy good health or not, it does tend to more severely impact those in poor health. As we continue to practice social distancing, it is important to consider alternate ways for affordable housing residents to access to fresh food, such as on-site gardens and a place for grocery delivery drop off.
The 2020 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria includes an optional criterion, 2.12 Access to Fresh, Local Foods, that rewards project teams that provide residents opportunities to access fresh food. This optional criterion has three pathways:
- Option 1: Neighborhood Farms and Gardens: this pathway outlines how project teams may create gardens for residents to grow their own fresh fruit and vegetables. A community garden provides residents an opportunity to supplement their diet without going to the store and simultaneously provides an enjoyable outdoor space where it may be easier to practice social distancing. Review the criterion for guidance on appropriate garden size for your property.
- Option 2: Community-Supported Agriculture shares how project teams can design a space for residents to receive on-site delivery of community supported agriculture (CSA) shares or other regular fresh-food programs, decreasing the need for trips to the grocery store. These spaces can also be used to safely and conveniently retrieve groceries bought online using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
- Option 3: Farmer’s Market rewards project teams that select affordable housing sites that are within walking distance of a farmer’s market, another location for residents to get fresh food.
Accessing Broadband Internet
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink daily activities. Many things we once did in person, like going to school or work, are now online. Access to the internet has never been more vital while we practice social distancing. Yet many adults and children alike do not live in homes that have broadband connections and cannot get online without traveling to an off-site location. An Ohio study found that one in nine children still lacks internet access.
Bringing broadband to a community is a complex process that affordable housing stakeholders cannot tackle alone. With that said, when broadband access does arrive at a community, the most important action is to ensure affordable housing ready to connect on day 1. The 2020 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, 2.15a Access to Broadband: Broadband Ready is new and requires that all new homes in rural communities are properly wired for broadband connectivity. Take a look at the criterion for detailed installation recommendations and resources. When a community gets service, these homes can immediately sign up for high-quality internet.
The 2020 Criteria also has 2.15b Access to Broadband: Broadband Connectivity that awards points to projects that are connected to internet at broadband speeds. Originally only available to rural projects, we are expanding the availability of this optional criterion. All projects, regardless of location or construction type, may now choose to pursue Criterion 2.15b for six optional points.
Creating Healthy Indoor Environments
We are spending unprecedented amounts of time in our homes and it’s vital to ensure it’s a healthy environment. In a study of the 2015 American Communities Survey, The Urban Institute found that “[r]enters with kids are more likely to have asthma triggers in their homes than owners and are more likely to have at least one child with asthma... Assisted renters have higher exposure to certain indoor asthma triggers (e.g., smoke, mold) than other low-income renters not receiving any government rental assistance.” It is not acceptable to ask residents to shelter in a home that creates or exacerbates health issues.
Project teams can ensure that people living in their developments are exposed to fewer respiratory triggers by including green building strategies in the development and management of their properties. Creating quality affordable housing with healthy indoor environments is a tenet of the Enterprise Green Communities program. We suggest project teams look to two requirements, the newly mandatory 7.6 Smoke-Free Policy and 7.7 Ventilation for healthy environment strategies especially relevant to Covid-19.
Creating Smoke-Free Spaces
Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in this country, is a common asthma trigger, and is associated with coronary artery disease. Air filtration and ventilation systems do not eliminate the health hazards caused by secondhand smoke. Smoke from one unit may seep through the cracks, be circulated by a shared ventilation system or otherwise enter the living space of another. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. In addition to the negative health effects, smoking significantly increases fire hazards and increases cleaning and maintenance costs. And, smoking reduces lung capacity while exacerbating the risk and impact of many respiratory infections, like Covid-19.2
The 2020 Criteria, 7.6 Smoke-Free Policy requires that project teams create and then enforce a smoke free policy for all common spaces and any outdoor areas within 25 feet of a building. Based on feedback, we also include safeguards to ensure the smoke-free policy cannot be used as a retaliatory measure against residents. Take a look at the suggested approach to developing such a policy, in the Criteria. Project teams can pursue optional points if the entire property is designated smoke free.
Creating Ventilated Spaces
Properly ventilated homes ensure that our daily activities aren’t likely to have negative impacts on health. For instance, proper ventilation and filtration can dilute potentially contaminated air, reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses, like Covid-19.3
Ventilation benefits are not limited to the reduction of Covid-19 exposure; cooking can contaminate the indoor air with harmful pollutants, and bathrooms without ventilation can create high levels of humidity, spurring mold and mildew growth. But range hoods and bathroom exhaust fans, both component of a comprehensive mechanical ventilation, can mitigate the effects of our daily activities before they impact our health.
The 2020 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria continues to require 7.7 Ventilation that ensures a comprehensive mechanical ventilation strategy for all certified projects. This strategy requires whole-house mechanical ventilation that meets ASHRAE 62.2 and includes spot ventilation, like range hoods over cooktops.
Communicating and Engaging with Residents
The 2020 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria provides many opportunities for affordable housers to play a critical role in influencing how our spaces can support health. We have highlighted only a few in this blog post especially relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic, and we encourage you to take a closer look at the Criteria to find the best path for your project team, residents and community.
As your team selects the criteria that best fit your project, include your building’s residents in your decision-making. Consider completing a Health Action Plan (1.5 Design for Health and Well-Being) or assembling a Cultural Advisory Council (1.7 Cultural Resilience) to bring impacted voices to the table and foster a greater sense of community. It is vital to consider how residents will be involved in, and made aware, of these important healthy living elements of their homes.
The 2020 Criteria continues to require a Resident Manual (8.3 Resident Manual) to inform residents of what a green home is, features and how to use and access them. We have templates available for you to customize, if you’d like. This is an opportune time to engage residents and the community to convey information, empathy, and hope during the Covid-19 pandemic.4 An open line of communication could make all the difference for those who are struggling with daily challenges, and hearing from you can increase their resiliency and ability to weather this storm. When we build more resilient communities, we build a better future for everyone.
And as always we applaud your commitment to green affordable housing.