Helensview Heights is all about sustainability, but far more than just the stuff you can feel, touch, or tack onto a house. Built on a 4-acre infill site in a low-income section of Portland, Ore., the 52-home enclave is designed to inspire and anchor an investment among its existing residents and business owners that will transition the neighborhood into a vital—and thus sustainable—community. The development meets the highest standards of LEED-Neighborhood Design (achieving a Gold rating in the pilot phase of the program), and the homes are expected to achieve Silver under LEED for Homes. But these designations are secondary attractions to the residents, who will enjoy lower monthly utility rates; reduced maintenance, repair, and replacement costs; improved indoor air; and probably higher resale value. Perhaps even more so is the long-term value of building on a greyfield parcel within the city’s urban growth boundary to create a perpetually owner-occupied housing option to buyers otherwise priced out to the suburbs.

That scenario, sans the LEED accolades, is nothing new for the locally culled project team headed by HOST Development. The Portland-based not-for-profit entity counts (and keeps tabs on) 375 affordable homes in the metro area, leveraging low-interest financing and other funding from several sources to satisfy its mission.

Throughout its 20-year history, HOST has championed energy efficiency as a tenet of low-income housing. “There’s a better chance that low-income owners will stay in their homes if it doesn’t cost as much to operate,” says executive director John Miller, who leveraged a local utility’s energy-saving program more than a decade ago to help reduce operating costs for HOST’s homeowners.

For Helensview Heights, the project team followed the USGBC’s LEED for Homes rating system thanks to grants from the Enterprise Community Foundation’s Green Communities program and The Home Depot Foundation.

A series of design charrettes paid for by the Enterprise grant revealed how close HOST’s standard specs were to achieving LEED certification, and how a few tweaks—including the use of heat recovery ventilators and heating fireplaces—would further reduce monthly operating costs and aid the company’s marketing effort. The grant also helped pay for a few of those upgrades, which the project team has since integrated into the pro forma to ensure the efficiencies continue through build-out without adding costs.

The cost to add heat recovery ventilators, for instance, was tied up mostly in their installation; once the builder found the ideal spot for the units and streamlined the process, the premium went away.

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