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July 23 2019

Hon. Jennifer Roberts at Virginia Housing's Rethink the Box: Innovation at Work

By Jennifer Roberts

I spoke recently at a Virginia Housing conference called Rethink the Box: Innovation at Work.  There were over 400 attendees, focused on the same issue: affordable housing. Why, you might ask, as a Director at ecoAmerica focused on building public support for climate action and climate solutions in communities, did I agree to speak about housing?

The answer is simple.  One of my first slides was a picture of silos, and one thing I know well from having been a mayor and a county commission chair: government too often operates in silos, to the detriment of progress. Housing and sustainability and climate solutions can go hand in hand, but too often the housing department never interacts with sustainability directors – and private developers are too seldom incented or encouraged to use green building techniques in low income housing.

Increased energy efficiency is one well known step for taking climate action. It has the added benefit of reducing utility costs, which leads to housing that is more affordable. Bingo! Silos conquered! So every housing department should be thinking of design guidelines, landscaping, zoning, and partnerships that lead to energy efficiency to reduce utility costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide healthier homes—all at the same time.

Some of our partners have done cool things—literally– in this area. Climate Resolve in Los Angeles has supported “cool streets” and a “cool roofs” ordinance, which requires anyone building or replacing a roof to use reflective shingles, cutting down urban heat and utility costs. In Moab, Utah, a non-profit called Community Rebuilds has designed low cost housing with natural, local materials, with a mission to “build energy efficient housing, provide education on sustainability, and improve the housing conditions of the workforce through an affordable program.” ​The Mayor of Moab, Emily Niehaus, is a leader in Path to Positive Utah.

So here’s to those who keep finding creative ways to break down silos, and make climate solutions part of every department–including affordable housing.

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