If you had the “pleasure” of reading my first post for this blog, you read about and saw pictures of Felton Homes, the 100-unit affordable rehab project currently underway in Macon, Georgia. After several meetings with the project team, rough inspections of the first sets of buildings, and numerous phone calls and emails, I received a phone call recently informing me that the owner, the Macon Housing Authority, had decided to drop both EarthCraft House and LEED certification due to cost concerns.
While these buildings were planned for ENERGY STAR certification from the very beginning, the green certifications were added late in the process. The changes required to achieve certification resulted in some significant cost increases to meet the various program requirements. Contracts were signed, changes completed, and inspections underway when we realized that there was additional work required, primarily to meet the specific prescriptive requirements of EarthCraft certification. While LEED for Homes had several prescriptive requirements, they ended up being simpler and less costly than those for EarthCraft, but in the end, the required upgrades led to dropping both certifications.
Enlightened Self Interest
While I am disappointed to lose the work, I feel that the bigger loss is the experience of working on and having a project of this scale in my portfolio. The unique character of this project – 100 affordable green gut rehab units – is rare enough that having been an integral member of the team on this development would have been an excellent marketing and public relations opportunity. And there is little I like more than some good marketing and PR.
When the opportunity for the contractor to take the green certifications off the table, I suspect that they were not particularly disappointed. In fact, there is a chance they were happy that the certifications were eliminated from the project. They certainly created additional work for them, and while they were compensated for it, it was unlikely that their increased fees were worth the effort. I expect that if they didn’t push for their client to drop the certifications, they probably didn’t lobby to keep them.
I think by letting the certifications go, the entire team – the contractor, the housing authority, and the architect – are missing an opportunity to be involved in a certified project, something that would likely give them an advantage in the future.
The Bigger Questions
Is this an isolated situation or does it imply a bigger issue in with green building certifications? As I mentioned in my earlier post, over 50% of LEED for Homes certifications are in the affordable sector. While this is a good trend, what is pushing it?
In Georgia, the state provides low-income housing tax credits for affordable developers and the selection process heavily favors green projects, giving heavy weight to projects that guarantee certification. This assures that practically every project awarded these tax credits is green certified. What will happen if or when these tax credits disappear? Will the developers revert back to standard construction practices?
While various incentives and tax credits for energy efficiency and green building are helping to improve the quality of our housing, we need to be looking farther into the future. If sustainable construction is not, in fact, a sustainable business without government support, it may be doomed to fail. We need to be looking to the future and how we can make green building the baseline so that there is nothing else out there. At that point we will be in a position to consider our efforts successful.