In response, USGBC and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation launched the Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant Program to give selected nonprofits and public agencies the tools to ensure their projects earn LEED ND designations. Along with $31,000 to cover certification expenses, the grant includes registration for workshops as well as LEED Green Associate and Accredited Professional exams, access to USGBC staff for technical assistance, and other educational resources.
Most of the townhouses have photovoltaic panels that provide electricity to the site.
Bank of America has a long-standing relationship with USGBC and plenty of common philosophical ground. (One hundred of its financial centers have achieved LEED certification, for example.) Community development has been a focus of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation—the bank’s philanthropic arm—and the AGN Grant Program grew out of the shared concern between the two organizations, says Richard Brown, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility for Bank of America. “Local residents and community leaders know what is needed to meet local affordable housing needs,” Brown says. “What they may need help on is making those projects optimally energy efficient and harnessing neighborhood-scale sustainability that gives equal emphasis to economics and equity. That’s where USGBC can help and why the assistance made available through the Affordable Green Neighborhoods is so important.”
So far, 31 projects have received AGN grants: 10 in 2010 and 2012, and 11 in 2014. To see a glimpse of the program’s genuine success, the transformation at the Homes at Old Colony is a good place to start.
In 2009, once demolition crews erased Old Colony’s past incarnation, developers Beacon Communities, in partnership with the Boston Housing Authority, aimed to redevelop the entire context of the site. With a blank canvas, Prakash says, LEED ND criteria helped craft a holistic vision for the siting and connectivity of the neighborhood. But when New Ecology discovered the Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant Program and joined its first round of recipients, those LEED ND criteria became more than sources of inspiration. “If there were moments when it would have been easier to do something a different way, there was an understanding that those principles were now set in stone,” Prakash says.
The AGN grant proved especially valuable because the team behind the Homes at Old Colony was entering uncharted territory: it was the first LEED ND project for Beacon Communities as well as New Ecology. “We didn’t have a lot of institutional knowledge about how to go about the process,” Prakash says. “The AGN program provided not only the raw funding for certification, but a lot of technical and peer support as well.” Project teams collaborated during monthly conference calls, sharing ideas with one another and finding solutions to issues that popped up during the certification process. And if there were uncertainties in whether any feature of Old Colony’s redevelopment would meet credit guidelines, Prakash says, USGBC staffers were a phone call or an email away. “I could just email Casey [Studhalter] and say, ‘This is exactly what we’re doing. Do you think this meets the credit requirements?’ I never had a panicked moment.”
Dave Queeley, Mark Dinaburg, and Jirair Ostayan outside Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corp. Photo: Eric Roth
With the second phase of construction completed in spring 2014 and the project expected to wrap up in 2015, the Homes at Old Colony earned LEED ND Stage 2 Gold certification. Solar panels line the roofs of the development’s buildings, each of which—from the townhouse-style residences to the Joseph M. Tierney Learning Center—has its own LEED designation. It remains deeply affordable, and Prakash said that a concerted effort to get Old Colony’s former residents into the renovated space means many of them returned, heaping praise on an upgraded environment that fosters community. Without the AGN grant, Prakash says, the Homes at Old Colony would have never come this far. “The grant was absolutely critical in terms of the actual certification. There was no way that the Old Colony site would have been able to go through the formal LEED ND process without it.”
Elsewhere in Boston, David Queeley, Eco-Innovation Fellow at Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation (CSNDC), says his organization needed the grant to enhance Dorchester’s Talbot Norfolk Eco-Innovation District (TNT EID), a 46-acre, 13-block area comprising 252 homes, a mix of triple-decker, multi-unit, as well as one- and two-family dwellings. With plans to develop at least 175,000 square feet of mixed-use space, Queeley says the district primarily houses low-income residents, and that CSNDC also intends to provide home ownership opportunities in the form of affordable, close to net-zero condominiums, known as the New England Heritage Homes (NEHH). The NEHH vision was created with residents present every step of the way, from architect selection to design review. “We already know that we can get a good amount of LEED ND points for things I’m proud to say we’ve already accomplished—smart location and linkage, neighborhood pattern and design, and walkability were just a few,” he says. “It was a thrill to get the grant, confirming our feeling that we‘re heading in the right direction.”
After receiving their grant in 2014, CSNDC and the residents of the TNT EID joined a community whose members are all looking to help each other learn and succeed. “There are projects throughout the country going through what we are, and we can all benefit from each other’s experience,” Queeley says. And besides giving the Talbot Norfolk Eco-Innovation District an all-around healthier design, he says the LEED ND designation demonstrates an investment in the future to the neighborhood’s residents. “We need to have equity goals so the residents have a stronger stake in what happens,” he says. “I always say, ‘Why not here? Why not us?’ I know we can reach our goals and this grant helps move that conversation and that process forward, and keeps them front and center in everyone’s minds.”
In Charlotte, North Carolina, David Howard, senior vice president of strategic initiatives and fund development for the Housing Partnership, was involved in the effort to make Brightwalk at Historic Double Oaks more sustainable. Originally a World War II-era housing project, the community has undergone a remarkable transformation with 50 of its 98 acres pursuing a LEED ND designation. “We had 573 apartments going bad, so we bought them, tore them down, and we intended to make them sustainable,” Howard explains. “We took brick, concrete, and asphalt on the street and found a way to reuse it. There are 216 affordable apartments on the property and 120 single-family houses—we’re proud to say that it’s now one of the hottest-selling neighborhoods in the city.”