I'm two sessions into a five-part series on affordable housing being run by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). The series aims to explain how affordable housing can be achieved within the parameters of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), recognised by many as the world's most stringent building performance standard. We've been fortunate to have been involved in two projects so far either seeking or achieving certification within the LBC framework - first, the Zero Energy House, and now the Glenorchy Marketplace.
The downside of this ILFI series is having to get up at 4AM, as the webinars are run live out of Seattle. The upside is that it is addressing one of the most challenging narratives in the building sector - that sustainability and affordability are competing forces.
While many people in the sector (myself included) will promote the idea that sustainability and affordability should go hand-in-hand, the reality is that in New Zealand we have no demonstration projects to prove the point. In fact, we have many examples that prove the opposite - homes with great sustainability outcomes that are not affordable to lower-income families, and affordable housing that performs poorly.
The ILFI Affordable Housing sessions are based on a series of pilot projects in multiple cities across the US. Those projects have started with the performance standards the Living Building Challenge is known for, such as Zero Energy and Zero Water, and then worked backwards to find affordable design strategies and systems for achieving them. In the end not all of the projects have been able to meet these performance targets, but most of them have gotten very close.
But the point in these projects is less about hitting the targets as aiming for them. Rather than incremental (or no) improvement in the performance of such housing stock, these projects are aiming for the very best for tenants. Just putting that goal into the design process pulls the performance of those homes towards them by energising teams into looking for new and innovative solutions, and these projects are seen as just the first iteration.
I'm only partway into the course, but am already seeing sense in the approach taken by ILFI in these US pilot projects - and am starting to see the potential for New Zealand if we were to do the same. At Evident, we are big believers in the power of such demonstration projects to push the boundaries and serve as lessons that lift the rest of the sector.