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


headshot

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.

harmony-1

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.

harmony-2

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.


Looking for a Professional Credential in Sustainability?

By: April Brown
Senior Projects Manager

In 2011, the MIT Sloan Management Review’s sustainability survey of global corporate leaders found that about 70% of respondents are increasing their commitment to sustainability within their organization, a drastic growth from the 2009 version of this survey, which was only 25%. Consequently, in the last decade, a career in sustainability management has gone from virtually non-existent to ranking as “hot” on a list of in-demand professions.

From third-party sustainability consulting to salaried sustainability management staff and C-Suite executives, millennials have an ever increasing opportunity to find a job that makes an impact and aligns with their values. Furthermore, the massive growth in demand for higher education degrees in sustainability has led to corresponding growth in degrees in social and environmental business and management among most colleges and universities throughout the states – big and small, public and private.

That said, until now, there has not been a professional credential that assesses and maintains the professional expectations and competency of the sustainability practitioner.  The International Society for Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), whose mission is to empower professionals to advance sustainability in organizations and communities throughout the globe, is setting out to change that. ISSP started in 2007 and, since then, they served their mission by providing professional development in the form of webinars and a structured sustainability certificate program. Additionally, ISSP provides  a professional membership program and resources for active members. In the last few years, ISSP has been seeking input and feedback on the needs of the field through a handful of surveys of working sustainability professionals.
The results show professional certifications and credentials are what hiring managers look for in the candidate pool. Since 2010, ISSP has developed a comprehensive understanding of the core competencies and job task requirements for a sustainability practitioner. With this thorough understanding, which they have published on their website, they are now developing 2 professional credentialing exams, ISSP Sustainability Associate and ISSP Certified Sustainability Professional, which will be available to the public in November 2015.
What is a sustainability practitioner?
According to ISSP, a sustainability practitioner is a professional who spends more than 25% of his or her time planning, implementing, managing, and reporting sustainability efforts for organizations and/or communities. This includes internal and external practitioners.
While the complete details are still under development, what they do know is that the two levels will require the following, in addition to on-going professional development to maintain the credential:
  • ISSP Sustainability Associate – Individuals who are new to the field of sustainability but have sufficient education and training to pass a test on basic knowledge and understanding of key sustainability concepts. Specific eligibility requirements include:
    • Complete application form and pay application fee
    • Sign the Code of Ethics Declaration
    • Pass the ISSP-SA Certification Exam
  • ISSP Certified Sustainability Professional – Experienced sustainability practitioners who demonstrate a combination of sustainability-related work experience and formal education. The certification for the ISSP CSP will be awarded to those who pass a more comprehensive test based on ISSP’s job task analysis. Specific elegibility requirements include:
    • Complete application form and pay application fee
    • Meet the ISSP-SA requirements
    • Pass ISSP-CSP Certification Exam
    • Meet certain educational qualifications
    • Meet certain work experience qualifications
The exams will cover a comprehensive list of job tasks that are documented in a 20-page report by ISSP. In summary, an ISSP Certified Sustainability Professional should be competent in the following areas:
  1. Core Sustainability Concepts – Demonstrate a familiarity with foundational concepts of sustainability
  2. Stakeholder Engagement – Develop and maintain interpersonal relationships with key stakeholders
  3. Plan Sustainability Strategies – Lead and influence the creation of comprehensive sustainability strategies and systems
  4. Implement Sustainability Strategies – Manage the implementation of sustainability strategies and initiatives
  5. Evaluate Sustainability Efforts
  6. Adjust Plans
Each exam is a 2-hour, 100-question online exam. All candidates must begin at the Sustainability Associate level and progress to the Certified Sustainability Professional level. Specific eligibility requirements do apply. The questions will be randomly generated from a pool of 1000 questions contributed by a team of subject-matter experts. Because the exam is delivered online, candidates will know their score immediately upon completion. A candidate must earn a score of at least 80% on the certification exam to pass. As with any professional credential, there will be credentialing maintenance and professional development requirements, within a 3-year reporting period.

So you want to be a sustainable business?

By April Brown, Projects Manager

You might be asking yourself – What does a sustainable business look like? Where do I start?

The path toward organizational sustainability will look a little different for everyone. Simply speaking, a good first step is to make a plan that includes sustainability goals and activities that will support the organization becoming more sustainable overtime: it’s a journey, not a destination.

“In my opinion, there are four primary areas that you should consider when developing a sustainability investment plan: management infrastructure, eco-efficiency programs, strategic initiatives, and marketing programs,” reflects Geoffrey Barneby of the FairRidge Group. “Clearly, there is a need to address these areas somewhat sequentially; you cannot successfully market sustainability before making strategic changes, and you cannot develop strategic initiatives without already having an appropriate management infrastructure in place. There is, however, room for overlap and most mature companies manage to do all four in parallel.”

Setting measurable goals and tracking your progress is important, so it is good to identify your goals and opportunities before starting to retrofit the bathroom sink faucets. In a recent article on GreenBiz.com, a sustainability consultant shared feedback he’s received from a client that also illustrates the traction integrated sustainability is gaining. He said,

“We’ve gone through a paradigm shift on sustainable development in the last year. It’s no longer seen as an environmental thing. It’s fully integrated into the way we think and plan around economic growth.”

Sustainability efforts are, also, most successful when you elect and empower someone to spearhead your sustainability efforts and make sure your goals remain on track. This position is a 21st century invention that has created jobs in the leadership ranks of most large companies, including Fortune 500 companies and political and economic powerhouses. Depending on rank, authority and responsibility titles range from “Chief Sustainability Officer” to “Sustainability Director” to or “Sustainability Analyst.” Sustainability professionals, like any high paid professional, require a certain level of knowledge and training. While there are more and more undergraduate and graduate degrees with a focus on sustainability, there is a shortage of qualified professionals to lead and implement strategic sustainable business initiatives. To help professionals keep up with the changing demands of the sustainable future, the Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University has created online courses for professionals to learn and practice the skills and tools they need to lead their organization’s sustainability initiatives. The online learning platform, which is being offered by OnlinePlus at Colorado State University, is intended for busy professionals; therefore classes are designed to accommodate typical business schedules.

“By participating in this program, you will enter into this important movement toward healthy economies, cities, and work practices and learn and apply real skills from leading researchers and professionals,” said April Brown, LEED AP BD+C, GGP.

“People that work in sustainability often come at it from one angle. They may ask, ‘How do we best engage occupants for sustainability?’ or ‘How do we retrofit our facility to get the biggest bang for our buck?’,” said Jeni Cross, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, Colorado State University and expert instructor for the Integrated Sustainability Management Certificate program. “While these are really important questions, this program focuses on the systems approach, which will teach you how to use the work in one quadrant to leverage bigger change in the other quadrants.”

To build the holistic mindset, the program is set up into 4 quadrants: people, resources, facilities, and organization.

When you have created your plan and you’ve designated someone to implement it, the next question you might ask yourself is – How? Much of the how relies on people adopting more sustainable behaviors. Much about behavior change is to be learned from social sciences. Jeni Cross, leading sociology researcher at Colorado State University, tell us about three myths of behavior change during a popular Tedx talk.

Cross explains that we all think we know how to encourage people to adopt sustainable behaviors, however, most of our encouragement actually does nothing to change anyone’s behavior. There are proven techniques for engaging behaviors of occupants and employees that support the organizational sustainability goals that should not be overlooked.

Business leaders worldwide agree that sustainability is an opportunity for growth and innovation, according to a 2013 report of CEOs’ views on creating a sustainable economy. Organizational sustainability is one of the fastest developing sectors of business in our modern world. Business is developing a heightened awareness on the importance of global issues, including social justice, climate change, energy independence, and water scarcity. Moreover, businesses are finding competitive advantage through sustainability and corporate responsibility. As an organization or business, taking sustainable strides will sincerely help you keep up with the growing market and increasing demand for transparency and responsibility. In the process, you can make a better place for your employees and a better product for your customers. Start by making a sustainability plan, then designate a knowledgeable Sustainability Coordinator to spearhead the initiatives outlined in the plan, and use tools from social science to engage your employees and building occupants and create a sustainability-minded culture to meet your sustainability goals and create lasting impact in your business.

Food Waste Decomposition Systems

By: Cassandra Kliewer | Sustainable Associate
Josie Plaut | Associate Dirtector

 

Food Waste

In 2010, America wasted an estimated 34 million tons of food and only about 3% of that waste was diverted from landfills. Food
digesters, which turn food waste into compost and gray water, are especially well-suited for large commercial kitchens like those found in hospitals and university campuses. Instead of putting food waste into landfills, food digesters turn waste food, into new soil and reduce the burden on municipal waste water treatment facilities.  Two waste audit studies, conducted by The Institute for The Built Environment for Rocky Mountain National Park, show that between 16-30% of the park’s waste, by weight, is food waste.

Food Digesters

Food digesters can either work with or without water. Both systems use an additive to accelerate the process of decomposition. Normally, the decomposing process would take a month, but instead the additive processes the food in 24 hours. The water-based process produces compost and gray water, which is water that is similar to the waste water from sinks and showers.  In a building that is connected to a municipal waste water treatment facility, gray water is easily treatable by the municipal waste water systems.  Gray water can also be treated on site and used for things like landscape irrigation.  Conversely, the dry system is evaporation-based and food waste is mixed with a decomposing additive. Both systems provide easy and sustainable solutions to landfill waste.
Food digesting systems produce nutrient rich material that can be used as compost to fertilize soil for landscapes. Since the dry system can digest food within 24 hours, a rapid source of compost for landscaping is readily available. If the building does not need compost, the facility can reach out to the community and provide compost for landscaping purposes elsewhere. Another benefit of having a food
digester is that it reduces the amount (and cost) of waste that would normally go to a landfill. Since food waste is composted on site with a food digester, there is also a benefit to reduced transportation cost and emissions.  In addition to saving dollars and emissions, and perhaps most importantly, wasted food is kept in the nutrient cycle to rebuild soil and is kept out of landfills where it contributes to methane gas production.

The Future of Food Waste

Various government officials have noticed the impact of food waste and are taken measures against food waste.  Massachusetts has taken measures to ban food waste from big food wasters (schools, hospitals, grocery stores, etc.) in favor of more sustainable options such as composting and using waste food as animal feed.  The ban aims to reduce landfill waste and improve soil health by prohibiting businesses from throwing-away leftovers into landfills.  Vermont and Connecticut have similar legislation in place.  The future where we universally turn leftovers into soil amendment, may be just around the corner!

The Urban Lab and a Living Wall

By: Colin Day
Sustainable Building Associate
In 2014, the City of Fort Collins launched and initiative called “Nature in the City” with the goal of ensuring every citizen has access to nature close to where they live and work. The focus of the project is to determine how the built environment contributes to how nature is perceived within the City. One of the deliverables of the project is a set of design guidelines that will support the successful implementation of various techniques that enhance access to nature in urban environments. While most of these approaches are well understood and tested, some have not been attempted in the arid West. One such approach is a living wall.
The Nature in the City initiative has contracted the Urban Lab to coordinate the design and installation of the first living wall in the Rocky Mountain region. The project will be a high profile case study on the feasibility and creation of green walls in arid climates. The wall will be designed to demonstrate what plants work best in a vertical setting and how habitat can be enhanced on site through use of green wall systems. Beyond these immediate project goals, the potential to better understand the variety of benefits that green walls are known to deliver will be the subject of ongoing research and observation.
Green walls are well documented for providing a w
ide variety of benefits: they improve both indoor and outdoor air quality, they provide buildings with insulation from heat and cold while protecting the building envelope from water and sunlight. They help to lower summer temperatures in cities by reducing the urban heat island effect. The vegetation green walls add to the urban environment provides habitat for urban species. Social psychologists have shown that by viewing and interacting with vegetation, stress and mental fatigue decrease as feelings of neighborhood security and overall health increases.
The confirmed site for the Nature in the City and Urban Lab’s living wall is at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. Students from the Colorado State University Dept. of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture have worked with the City of Fort Collins and The Institute for the Built Environment to produce compositional and planting designs for panels that will established in the CSU greenhouses. The Urban Lab has connected the CSU USGBC student chapter with the project. This student group will install the panels on site, thereby furthering the project’s educational impact. The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery was selected as the ideal site to locate the project for a variety of reasons. Because of the existing public-private partnership between the City and the Museum, maintenance issues will be streamlined through the City Parks Dept., the project proximity to the Mason Corridor aligns with the Urban Lab’s mission to enhance smart development between the University and Downtown Fort Collins on this mixed-use corridor, and the well established reputation of the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery as a venue for educational displays that are equally accessible to children and adults. The living wall will serve as an exhibit at the Museum, and will be sited adjacent to the new endowment garden, to be designed by local firm Earthborn Landscape Design. The location will have high visibility and public access, while the plant selection will include species that support pollinators, have a variety of seasonal interest and are tactile and aromatic.
If successful, the first living wall in the region will contribute to a better understanding of the feasibility of using these types of systems in our urban environments. The benefits that are connected with living walls are well worth exploring as a part of a suite of techniques that increase biodiversity, resource savings and overall well-being in cities. With any luck, you might see more vertical greenery in your city in the coming years.