Partner Spotlight on Enterprise Community Partners: Promoting Equity and Opportunity through Affordable Housing
By Cristina Davia –
Enterprise & The Housing Insecurity Crisis
The United States is in the midst of a housing insecurity crisis. What does it mean to be housing insecure? To Enterprise Community Partners, it means people are spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs alone, or are homeless. And it’s a huge problem. About 19 million households across the country are housing insecure, according to Michael Spotts, a senior analyst-project manager at Enterprise Community Partners.
That doesn’t leave much money left over for meeting life’s other necessities, the second biggest expense being transportation. Then there’s healthcare, food and clothes. These expenses add up and make people severely cost burdened, unable to save money and often leave them one economic shock shy of losing their home.
The myth in America is that housing insecurity only affects the unemployed, the disabled, the elderly or those on a fixed-income. That’s simply untrue.
“In the last decade, there’s been a two-thirds increase in the number of housing insecure, fully employed households,” Spotts said, citing data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ State of the Nation’s Housing 2015 report.
Enterprise Community Partners’ mission is to promote opportunity for low- and moderate-income people through affordable housing in diverse, thriving communities.
“We provide support for affordable housing in three ways,” Spotts said. “Effective project financing, technical expertise and advocacy for better policies.”
This spotlight focuses on two solutions: Enterprise Green Communities Criteria and Enterprise’s equitable transit-oriented development initiative.
Enterprise provides expertise to their local developer partners, leads policy work and initiatives, operates national programs such as Enterprise Green Communities and gives grants to partners to help them strengthen their operations or plan projects. These grants come from funds that Enterprise raises every year from donors, which are a mix of individuals, corporations and foundations. Enterprise also competes for federal funding sources.
Enterprise’s goal is to end housing insecurity in the United States within a generation. That means no more homelessness, no more families paying half their income on housing and no more families living disconnected from access to resources. To start, by 2020, Enterprise pledges to help provide opportunity to one million low-income families through quality affordable housing and connections to good schools, jobs, transit and health care.
Enterprise Green Communities
One of the ways in which Enterprise provides affordable housing solutions is through their Green Communities Criteria, the first national framework for greening affordable housing.
The Criteria rose out of their development partners’ growing desire to build green before there was any green building program available for residential buildings. Enterprise sought to fill that need, and in 2004, launched the pilot program for their Green Communities initiative.
Enterprise gave the Criteria, along with grants, to their development partners and asked them to try it out. Over the next five years, they measured outcomes, compiled lessons learned and developed tools to help developers do more and do better.
Following the trial period, Enterprise created a national certification platform, which they continue to run and update every three to four years.
“From the street, you can’t always tell that a building is a green building, but overall, buildings that use Enterprise Green Communities Criteria are 15 percent more energy efficient than a building built [just] to code,” said Krista Egger, senior program director of Enterprise’s Green Communities initiative.
Buildings that meet the criteria are also more water efficient, better connected to community through transit-oriented development and healthier due to use of green building materials that lead to better air quality.
Under the 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, new construction projects are required to be built within a half mile walking distance of transit services with 60 or more transit rides per weekday, or, if they’re in rural locations, within five miles of other transit options, like vehicle share or other public or private regional transportation.
About two dozen states and a dozen major cities either require or reference the Enterprise Green Communities certification program when deciding which affordable housing projects to support, Egger said.
“States and cities see our program as a mechanism of quality control,” Egger said. “They use the criteria to make sure that if they’re going to allocate their really tight resources to build affordable housing, they’re going to make sure it’s really good, really high quality.”
Currently, 85,000 units across 39 states and the District of Columbia, are in the process of being certified as Enterprise Green Communities. The Enterprise Green Communities certification team reviews project applications for compliance with the Criteria at two stages: PreBuild and PostBuild. Projects are certified if they pass both review stages.
Enterprise is also working on a longitudinal study with the National Center for Healthy Housing and medical communities at Mount Sinai in New York, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the University of Chicago to quantify the health impacts of living in a green building.
Smaller studies in the past have shown that the rates of childhood asthma decrease dramatically for those who live in a green building, but this study will quantify benefits at a larger scale.
Enterprise’s most recent cost study (2012) found that, on average, building green added two percent to the overall cost of construction, but the energy savings helped recoup costs within six years.
“We’re all pretty confident that the savings you would get from being able to quantify health benefits far outstrip even the energy savings,” Egger said.
Results from the upcoming health study will show whether that’s the case.
Equitable Transit-Oriented Development
Equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) is another key aspect of Enterprise’s work, though comparatively newer.
Enterprise has offices in cities throughout the country, and it was in Denver that they first realized the need for eTOD.
In the late 2000s, when Denver was planning a major transit expansion, FasTracks, a conversation arose, begging the question, “What’s going to happen to the communities that were previously not transit-served, that are going to start getting transit?”
Plenty of research has shown that the existence of, or the addition of, transit can lead to increases in property values and also, accordingly, rent and property taxes. When this happens, it increases cost burdens and creates potential for displacement.
“A lot of the communities that were going to be getting new transit service in Denver were historically lower-income neighborhoods, and not necessarily subsidized lower-income where it’s going to remain at a given rent level,” Spotts said. “It was a lot of areas that because of the age and the quality of the housing stock were naturally more affordable.”
However, if existing residents were able to remain in their communities, they could enjoy the benefits of transit access, including increased job prospects and access to services.
So, Enterprise’s solutions team worked with their capital team and other state and local partners to create the Denver TOD Fund (now the Denver Regional TOD Fund). They raised capital from public, private and philanthropic sources and helped create a pool of capital that would be used to acquire properties strategically, before transit arrived and property values skyrocketed. They either held the properties for development or partners developed them with affordable housing immediately.
Enterprise has done similar work in markets throughout the country.
Recently, Enterprise released Promoting Opportunity through Equitable Transit-Oriented
Development (eTOD): Making the Case, the first report in an upcoming series that expands upon Making Affordable Housing at Transit a Reality by Enterprise and FRESC (2010).
The series will serve to further explain the benefits of eTOD and how to achieve them.
Enterprise in Washington DC
The Monseñor Romero Apartments in DC’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood is an example of the high-quality affordable housing that Enterprise supports. In 2008, a devastating fire left the four-story historic Deauville apartments uninhabitable, leaving nearly 200 people homeless.
Enterprise and the National Housing Trust worked with the tenants association to purchase and rehab this building by providing investment capital and guiding the renovation. Now known as Monseñor Romero Apartments, this property is home to low and moderate income individuals and certified to the Enterprise Green Communities. This building, like all those others built to Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, uses 15 percent less energy than other new buildings. The apartments are also water efficient and transit-oriented. Residents have close access to several bus lines, and the Columbia Heights metro station is about half a mile away.