A New Neighborhood Approach: Meeting Fort Collins’ Affordable Housing Gap


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Bruce Hendee, RLA

IBE Advisory Board Member


Affordable housing became an issue in Fort Collins shortly after the end of the Great Recession. At that time, a perfect storm of conditions led to a dramatic decrease in the availability of affordable housing that has continued to this day.

In 2014, Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity’s Board of Directors and Executive Director, Kristin Candella, recognized the need to address this shortage of affordable housing stock. In response, the Board set an aggressive goal to build 50 new affordable homes by the year 2020, more than doubling the homes built by Habitat over the last twenty years—an especially challenging task given that all are built with volunteers. The goal required a new neighborhood approach that would yield more homes in less space to keep individual costs down.

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Harmony Cottages perspective.

The Perfect Storm for an Affordable Housing Crisis

As the lingering effects of the Great Recession began to wear off, there were few new housing units on the market. New housing starts had slowed due to the shortage of credit available from lenders in response to tightening legislation from the Federal Reserve. Developers were reluctant to invest in new projects because of the weakened economy and the Construction Defects Law, a new state law that made it easier for builders to be sued in building new condominiums. Construction of new condos came to a halt, putting further pricing pressure on entry-level housing.

At the same time that housing starts were at a dramatic low, Fort Collins was recognized as one of the best places to live and raise a family in America. The city and the Front Range became one of the favored locations to move. Simultaneously, Colorado State University was anticipating significant growth in student enrollment and had over $1 billion in new construction planned over a 10-year period, while Fort Collins-based corporations (such as Woodward and Otterbox) were building major new manufacturing and corporate facilities.

The resulting storm of immigration, lack of housing under construction, and a newly emerging, booming marketplace for jobs created a vacuum in available housing. The shortage caused housing prices to rise and affordability to become an issue.

Cottages and New Urbanism: Maximizing Space & Minimizing Cost

To realize the vision for 50 new affordable homes, Habitat for Humanity decided on a site located at Harmony and Taft Hill Road. But the original land plan contained only 30 lots whereas close to 50 were required to meet the goal. Additionally, the cost of lots would be too high spread over only 30 lots. With a targeted objective of attracting residents making an income in the 35-60% range of area median income, Habitat had to keep site and home costs down in spite of a rapidly escalating residential market.

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Harmony Cottages site plan. Image courtesy of Ripley Design, Inc.

To meet this challenge, Habitat teamed up with a local social impact developer and retained a design team that included two IBE Advisory Board members, Bruce Hendee, ASLA, and Greg Fisher, AIA. The team also included local landscape architecture firm Ripley Design, which has significant neighborhood design experience.

The team was given the charge to develop a denser site plan that added more lots while creating a great community. Design began with an intensive charrette and used a blend of New Urbanism and Pocket Neighborhood concepts, which originated from early neighborhood designs begun by Ebeneezer Howard and Frederick Law Olmsted during the Garden City Movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s. This concept evolved around small garden commons surrounded by cottage-style homes. To increase density, Fisher developed a duplex home style with gabled roof lines that made the duplexes appear as though they were two single-family homes. The community court concept, paired with the unique duplex style, enabled the project to expand from 30 to 48 units, a nearly 60% increase in density. An added benefit was the preservation of 40% open space.

A Collaborative Model for Affordable Energy

A key project requirement was to create highly efficient, low-cost homes. For families earning a low to moderate income, paying for heat often falls to the wayside in the interest of other, more critical needs. Therefore, a design that would keep residents comfortable at a very low energy cost was key.

In consultation with the City of Fort Collins Utilities’ Integrated Design Assistance Program (IDAP), Fisher designed homes with an exceptional building envelope and highly efficient electrical systems. IDAP enabled the team to conduct energy modeling of envelopes to further improve performance. The design process is still underway but has already yielded benefits, including analyzing the impact of the insulation. Spurred by a meeting that IBE facilitated early in the design phase, all insulation was donated by Johns Manville, helping bring down costs.

All homes were designed to accommodate three-kilowatt solar panels without charging residents more for their homes or more in energy costs. Fisher ensured the homes were positioned to ensure maximized rooftop orientation of solar panels. The solar provider, Namaste Solar, has generously offered to donate $1,200 of the cost of every solar panel for the first phase. Kyocera, the solar panel manufacturer, is considering providing reduced-cost solar panels. And, the City of Fort Collins is considering matching financing up to $25,000 toward a solar installation for the first phase through an income-qualified solar program.

The total cost of solar per dwelling unit is approximately $12,000. With initial donations of approximately $5,000, the remaining balance is $7,000 per unit. Two approaches are being considered to cover this balance: a Habitat fundraiser and social impact investment. Through the latter, philanthropic investors would purchase the solar panels and be repaid through a 30% solar tax credit combined with capturing the net difference in energy costs through net metering. Once repaid, the money could contribute toward new social impact investments.

A Youth-Designed Playground

A unique detail of the neighborhood plan is a playground designed in large part by Kinard Middle School students. With the landscape architects and school staff, students researched playground design for children with various disabilities and met at a local neighborhood park to draft designs atop sidewalks and picnic tables. The fresh perspectives they generated greatly enhanced the community design.


The Harmony Cottages project site is now under construction with plans to build six to eight homes per year, based on availability of donations and volunteer labor. With home construction beginning in 2017, estimated buildout is 2023-2025.

To learn more, visit the Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity’s website.


About Bruce

Bruce Hendee is the former Chief Sustainability Officer and an Assistant City Manager with the City of Fort Collins. Bruce is also founder and former owner of BHA Design, a landscape architecture and planning firm located in Fort Collins.

He has organized and directed various efforts in the Fort Collins area, including development of a new division within the City called Sustainability Services. While at the City, he led an effort to create a new Climate Action Plan, a new Economic Health Strategic Plan, and development of a Social Sustainability Department. In 2012, the division was recognized with the Robert Havlick Award awarded by the International City/County Managers Association) as one of the most innovative new city management systems.

As the CEO of BHA Design in Fort Collins, he led the firm in numerous projects along the Front Range including master planning and design for University of Colorado Health, PVH, Harmony Campus, and Medical Center of the Rockies. Other notable projects included the master plan for the Downtown River District, Fossil Creek Park, Spring Canyon Park, and projects with the University of Colorado and Colorado State University.


Upcoming Event! The LENSES Framework

lenses2The LENSES Framework
Presented by
The Institute for the Built Environment, CLEAR, USGBC & Alliance for Sustainable Colorado

Monday, February 22, 2016 5:30 – 7:30 pm

Leaders in green building design and construction and sustainable development are looking to push beyond current practices into “regenerative design” and “living” built environments. This different way of thinking shifts away from a “less bad” approach to the built environment and toward a wholly positive, benefit-creation process — one that we call “regenerative development.”

LensesAt the leading edge of this transition is LENSES, or Living Environments in Natural, Social, and Economic Systems. LENSES is an open source framework that guides project teams and communities toward regenerative solutions for their development needs. The LENSES approach has already sparked “way-outside-the-box” discussions and innovations in leadership retreats, community workshops, and college courses. The outcome? Living environments that foster and celebrate happier people, a healthier planet, and financial comfort.

Join us on February 22 to learn about regenerative development and LENSES from the creators of LENSES. See how you can use this framework to affect positive change in the sustainable development space, including achieving LEED Platinum, the Living Building Challenge, and other high-performance goals.

This event will qualify as a GBCI credit. Just make sure to sign in at the door to ensure you receive it!

5:30 – 6:00 pm: Networking

6:00 – 6:45 pm: LENSES presentation

6:45 – 7:15 pm: Hands-on LENSES activity

7:15 – 7:30 pm: Wrap up and Q&A

Please register here!

Technology Is Transforming the Built Environment

austin_colorBy Austin Good | Sustainable Building Associate

It’s no secret technology has made great advancements over the past couple decades. It was only 8 years ago that Apple introduced the iPhone which kick-started the mobile computing revolution. Now, only a few years later, mobile technology is ubiquitous. Just as the rise of mobile computing occurred so quickly we are beginning to see technical advances make their way into the DNA of our built environment. Buildings and systems are being outfitted with sensors and computers allowing them to make their own calculated decisions based on the surrounding environment.
Smart-Home-graphic.jpgSmart buildings support sustainable behavior.

People are becoming more aware and more in control of the built environment through real time information about everything from energy use to bus schedules. The USGBC recently came out with their LEED Dynamic Plaque which shows building occupants updated information about a building’s energy and water use along with other metrics in an attractive easy to read display. Technology like this helps people see buildings as real time systems, with real time benefits and consequences associated with how the building is used. As real time building metrics develop, maybe these dynamic displays will show more than just a building’s environmental impact, they could also display metrics for another building down the street, entire block, or a city creating friendly competitions around reducing resource use. In the future, every home could be outfitted with dynamic information measurements, allowing homeowners to monitor their resource consumption in real time.

Smart buildings can diagnose and fix problems real-time.
Using smart building data to support good behavior is one piece of the puzzle, but another important one that this technology enables is the ability for our buildings and their systems to troubleshoot issues in real time, quickly solving problems and saving resources. A great example are the new thermostats like Nest that enable better control over a buildings heating and cooling. Not only are these thermostats easy to install in existing buildings, but because they are connected they are adaptable. Nest, a leader in the smart thermostat field, recently pushed out an automatic software update to existing Nest thermostats that included energy efficiency improvements. This software update enables these smart thermostats to more efficiently control a home’s temperature by taking into account more factors, like weather, how drafty your home is, and what your personal schedule is like. This software update, that happened overnight for thousands of users, increased home energy efficiency gains of between 3.8-6.5 percent. Imagine if every building was outfitted with a smart thermostat and all of our cities saw those gains overnight.

Smart buildings learn.
Because of integrated, connected software, smart building systems can continually evolve and learn, allowing them to be more efficient without waiting for consumer to adopt the next generation technology. Instead of having to wait to buy an entirely new car to gain efficiency, software updates can enable us to make gains using what we already have. Sure, there will still be need for physical improvements to technology, but software updates may enable us to use products and systems for longer, extending product cycles.
These examples only scratch the surface. In a time where we desperately need to reduce our resource use these advances are critical. 30 years ago, no one could have predicted the technological advancements that we have made. As we continue to develop a connected world it’s exciting to imagine what lies ahead in the next 30 years.

The 5 Principles of Innovative Teams

Projects Manager
Building design and construction is incredibly complex.  Countless perspectives and disciplines—from users to engineers, architects, contractors, craftsmen, and financiers—are required to collaborate in order to design a multitude of building systems that will work in harmony, while also being functional and beautiful.  The process we use to bring together these individuals is called integrative design (ID).
Why integrative design? 
To many, this simply means getting more people in the room. But is more people and more meetings really what it takes to develop meaningful solutions?
The Integrative Design Process is the arguably largest determinant of the success and efficiency of a building. Along with the advancement of building technologies, this process is a critical tool in reducing the environmental impact of buildings and supporting the health of those who inhabit them. So it’s really important we get this right.
But with so many people involved, how can we come to better decisions faster?
Most design teams would agree that the Integrative Process is meaningful, but they are often overwhelmed with the number of people that should be at the table and the time required to make decisions in large groups.  They often ask, how can we come to better decisions faster?
IBE: Taking research to practice
In 2009, the Institute for the Built Environment, Dr. Jeni Cross and additional CSU researchers began evaluating what differentiates the best integrative design projects from those that struggled.  From this research, we discovered that team structure was one of the primary indicators of success in the ID process.
We used social network analysis to visualize teams and illustrate the people, relationships, and structure of teams.  These diagrams showed that although diverse team membership is necessary, this is not all that is required to support collaboration and innovation.  Instead, it is the communication patterns and relationships between people that distinguishes successful integrative design teams.
So, how do we create successful integrative design teams?

Through this research, we identified five key principles of Integrative Design.  By using these principles, teams can build a network with the capacity to make better decisions faster.

1. A Facilitator Guides the Team

A trained facilitator is necessary to moderate the interactions on a team and build trust. Facilitators also develops willingness to take risks and openness to learning within the team, while encouraging equal participation.

Every Team Needs a Cat Herder 

2. The Team Establishes Rules of Interaction

Teams must establish ground rules to guide their interaction.  These ground rules most often resemble:
-Everyone knows everyone
-We all have an equal voice & an expectation to contribute
-Decisions are informed by whole group input
-We are all learning and don’t individually have all the answers

3. The Team has Diverse and Inclusive Membership

Innovation doesn’t happen in a team with people who all think the same or have the same perspectives and opinion. Diversity is required in order to bring the unique data, perspectives, and specialized expertise which are necessary for innovation.

4. The Team has a Core-Periphery Structure

The core team is dense and everyone is very connected (everyone knows everyone), but this team reaches out to a periphery of resources to bring in new ideas and information to the group.

5. The Team Utilizes Integrative Decision Making

The team utilizes a process of generating major decisions as a group, vetting them with appropriate individuals, making sure they align with project vision and goals, and refining decisions as a team.

To learn more about optimal team structure, why it is critical to success, and how to create it download the new white paper, the Social Network of Integrative Design.
At IBE, our mission is to advance the development of healthy thriving built environments, and we do this by taking research to practice.  So, take advantage of the other white papers, presentations, and publications in our research library to advance your knowledge and your work.

Social Networks and Innovation

By Reanna Putnam

Sustainable Behavior Associate

Social networks can tell us a lot about how organizational structure promotes innovation. And don’t worry, this post is not about optimizing Facebook and Twitter to boost creativity. The term social network can be used to describe the relationships between any collection of two or more people, groups or organizations with common goals or interests(1).

Figure 1: Structural Holes(6)

There are different theories as to what produces innovation in social networks. One common explanation is that the presence of structural holes, defined as places of disconnection in the network, promote creativity in the individuals nearest to the structural hole(2, 3,4). Individuals who are near structural holes are more likely to have access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations because they are able to draw on information from outside of their immediate connections(2). Encouraging indirect ties that bridge structural holes is a cost effective way for organizations to access diverse knowledge and contribute to innovation without adding to project expenses(5).

Another, perhaps conflicting, way to increase innovation in a network, is through strengthening relationships among members of a design team and creating a more densely connected network. This is important because it can increase performance(7,8,9), reduce conflict among team members(10), and increase in the duration of group membership(11).
Figure 2: Core Periphery Structure (12)

So how do we bridge these two contradictory concepts? One way is through promoting a core-periphery structure. A strong project team will consist of a densely connected core of key decision makers who are loosely connected to a peripheral network form which they draw ideas and information into the network. These loose connections to the periphery network allows for the network to be larger, bringing in new and diverse ideas. Because not all members of the core are connected to the periphery, innovation producing structural holes are formed.

Integrative design teams often take on this core-periphery structure. They do so by having a densely connected decision making core who are loosely connected to a diverse periphery of building users, facilities and operation staff, design specialists and construction professionals. The core-periphery structure allow for integrative design teams to come up with innovative design solutions that produce efficient buildings and increase occupant satisfaction.

(1) Anklam, P. (2007). Net work: a practical guide to creating and sustaining networks at work and in the world. Routledge.

(2) Burt, R. S. (2004). Structural holes and good ideas1. American journal of sociology, 110(2), 349-399.

(3) Walker, G., Kogut, B., & Shan, W. (1997). Social capital, structural holes and the formation of an industry network. Organization science, 8(2), 109-125.

(4) Powell, W. W., Koput, K. W., & Smith-Doerr, L. (1996). Interorganizational collaboration and the locus of innovation: Networks of learning in biotechnology. Administrative science quarterly, 116-145.

(5) Ahuja, G. (2000). Collaboration networks, structural holes, and innovation: A longitudinal study. Administrative science quarterly, 45(3), 425-455.

(6) Farral, Kenneth. (2004) Web Graph Analysis in Perspective: Description and Evaluation in terms of Krippendorff’s Conceptual Framework for Content Analysis (version 1.0). Retrieved from: http://farrall.org/papers/webgraph_as_content.html.

(7) de Montjoye, Y. A., Stopczynski, A., Shmueli, E., Pentland, A., & Lehmann, S. (2014). The strength of the strongest ties in collaborative problem solving. Scientific reports, 4.

(8) Balkundi, P., & Harrison, D. A. (2006). Ties, leaders, and time in teams: Strong inference about network structure’s effects on team viability and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 49(1), 49-68Lazega 2002

(9) Nelson, R. E. (1989). The strength of strong ties: Social networks and intergroup conflict in organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 32(2), 377-401.

(10) McPherson, J. M., Popielarz, P. A., & Drobnic, S. (1992). Social networks and organizational dynamics. American Sociological Review, 153-170.

(11) Borgatti, S. P., & Everett, M. G. (2000). Models of core/periphery structures.Social networks, 21(4), 375-395.