Monday, September 12, 2011

Sustainability Defines the next generation of affordable housing


Written by By Laura Archuleta, President, Jamboree Housing Corporation

More and more, affordable housing developers such as Jamboree Housing are finding that the first two questions city officials ask about our communities are: how much will it cost, and is it sustainable? It’s quite possible that an affordable project that would otherwise be opposed in a community, might find support and ultimate approval if the developer has a compelling sustainability story to tell.

Powerful voices and inexorable forces are pushing forward the importance and value of sustainability as a critical element in the development of affordable housing – and all housing for that matter – as our planet grapples with the increasing cost of energy, the growing scarcity of clean water, and the need to reduce greenhouse gas and clean up our environment. Real sustainability is a critical factor that affordable housing developers must embrace more fully to ensure that their new ventures are approved, built, and competitive.


There are many options available to improve a development’s sustainability profile; however, some may be too expensive while others may be less than effective. There is a balance and our experience is to work hand-in-hand with the consultant team such as the architects and general contractors at the earliest stages of the design process to determine which components make the most sense based on affordability goals and constraints. Not every project needs to be LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified to be effectively sustainable. Our green motto is, “Do what we can whenever we can, raising the bar as we go.”

In 2008, Jamboree made ENERGY STAR appliances one of its design guidelines for improved energy efficiency for all new construction and all acquisition/rehabs needing replacement appliances. We realize that reducing use of energy and other utilities such as water is important to many workforce families because utility costs can easily consume more than 20% of their household budget, compared to 4% for families with median household incomes above 160% AMI (average median income).

The financial value of melding sustainability with affordability is emphasized in great detail by the Enterprise Communities Partnership in a study. Based on years of research, Enterprise published “Incremental Cost, Measurable Savings: Enterprise Green Communities Criteria,” a first-of-its-kind study showing the cost effectiveness of sustainability in affordable housing. Using the Enterprise’s Green Communities Criteria, the study estimates that the lifetime savings from sustainability significantly exceeds the initial investment made to incorporate sustainable features into affordable housing.

The multiple benefits of sustainability for affordable housing are highlighted at Laurel Crest, our multifamily community that opened in 2007 in Lancaster, CA, a sustainably minded city in the Antelope Valley area of northern Los Angeles County. We were fortunate to have so many important sustainable factors, including a transit-oriented location and solar power, come together at Laurel Crest. Certainly not all of these green elements will be available at every property, but this community serves as a case study on the value of sustainability in the entitlement, development and ongoing management of affordable housing.

Located in the North Downtown Transit Village redevelopment area of Lancaster, Laurel Crest is a 72-apartment workforce housing community (40-60% AMI) with an emphasis on family-oriented design. To determine the most cost effective approach to the project, Jamboree conducted a design charrette with environmental consultants and design engineers to incorporate green site and design elements that would meet state regulations at little or no additional cost. While Jamboree communities typically exceed California’s Title 24 energy efficiency standards by more than 15%, Laurel Crest is designed to exceed it by 20%. With PV, projections indicate that Laurel Crest’s electrical costs will be reduced by 13% annually.


Site location can be one of the most important factors in a project’s sustainability tool kit, and Laurel Crest’s location within walking distance of a Metrolink commuter train station and nine bus lines is key to its sustainable character. The transit-convenient location significantly cuts vehicle trips, which greatly reduces vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and resulting carbon generation, the main ingredient in greenhouse gas. To promote public transit, Laurel Crest residents who work in the Los Angeles metro area are given special incentives that encourage them to leave their cars at home and ride the Metrolink.

Another sustainably minded city where Jamboree Housing is actively developing is Irvine, CA. Granite Court, which opened in 2009 in the Irvine Business Complex, is designed to bring employees closer to their workplace. The IBC is a 4,000-acre commercial, industrial and residential district that encompasses 4,500 companies employing more than 110,000 people. Strategically located at the IBC’s center, Granite Court is a true urban infill development near a variety of public transit systems including the Metrolink commuter train, city and county bus lines, and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.

The award-winning project encompasses 71 affordable apartments (30-60% AMI) with sustainable development as a priority. Offering one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartment homes, Granite Court features a photovoltaic system that powers common areas, the use of renewable and earth-friendly materials such as low-VOC paints and adhesives throughout the property, and in every apartment home there is low-flow plumbing and ENERGY STAR appliances.

Most recently, we have taken our sustainability commitment a step further with the development of our two newest workforce housing communities in the cities of Brea and Claremont, CA, that are designed to be LEED certified. As LEED multi-family projects, both Bonterra and Courier Place are scheduled for completion this year and will meet the new Cal Green sustainability regulations and exceed Title 24 energy efficiency standards by more than 15%.

Being developed in Brea, Bonterra will provide 94 new apartment homes (30-60% AMI) for Brea's workforce, estimated at 7,500 workers within 1.5 miles of the site. Bonterra is a walkable community designed to help preserve open space and offer pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly neighborhoods that provide residents with opportunities to exercise and to get to know their neighbors. In Claremont, Courier Place’s 76 apartment homes (30-50% AMI) represent a development milestone for Jamboree by helping to pioneer a new generation of housing that will be sustainable, affordable and intergenerational. Courier Place also responds to California’s greenhouse gas law SB-375 that requires new residential development to be located near public transit to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and carbon emissions.

THE VALUE OF PUBLIC TRANSITAccording to a number of studies, locating a residential development such as Courier Place and Laurel Crest near public transit can greatly enhance its desirability both from an affordability and sustainability viewpoint. A report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) concludes that compact residential development in urban areas is a key component in efforts to optimize the work/housing ratio and by doing so, mitigate generation of carbon (i.e. greenhouse gas). The study, “Land Use and Driving: The Role Compact Development Can Play in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” concludes land use that combines housing with transportation will continue to be critical to lowering overall greenhouse gas emissions by reducing driving and energy consumption.

According to ULI and studies by the National Research Council, compact development in urban locations nationwide could reduce vehicle miles traveled and related carbon emissions by 11% below the 2000 level, increasing to 18% by the year 2050. Echoing the ULI studies, a report co-authored by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University further underscores the value of housing close to public transit. Titled “The State of the Nation’s Housing 2010,” the comprehensive report states that it is imperative for our nation to improve housing affordability by focusing on location efficiency and transportation costs.

Creative thinking and design can open the door to unique ways to improve sustainability. Jamboree’s newest affordable project in Buena Park, CA, is a 70-unit (30- 60% AMI) urban infill project that features a live green roof over the parking area that will reduce the “heat island effect,” a generator of greenhouse gas, and it will also help reduce and cleanse storm water runoff. The rectangular green roof spans the interior parking area and creates more than 20,000 square feet of green open space meadow to accommodate a variety of native plantings and even decorative hardscape for barbecues, picnic tables and social gatherings for the residents. This leading edge project is scheduled to be under construction later this year.

For Jamboree, being truly green with projects such as Laurel Crest, Granite Court, Bonterra and Courier Place is the underpinning of our asset portfolio and our human resources. Sustainability in all of its forms is here to stay and all of us in the building industry need to jump on the bandwagon. It may not always be a smooth ride, but in the end we will be better off for having made the commitment.

About the Author

Laura Archuleta is president of Jamboree Housing Corporation, headquartered in Irvine, CA. The company’s portfolio includes development of and/or ownership interest in more than 6,000 affordable homes in 56 California communities with a market value that exceeds $1 billion. For more information on the company, visit

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