If you’ve bought into the belief that building green, and especially to LEED standards, is only affordable at the upper end of the housing price spectrum, take a good look at Folsom + Dore Apartments in San Francisco. The 98-unit rental project on a half-acre brownfield site offers reasonable, long-term lease rates to a mix of low-income residents—including former homeless and disabled folks living far below the city’s stratospheric average income level—with a shining example of how sustainability extends far beyond a building’s shell and component parts.

The project’s “green by design” approach began with its site, the redevelopment of a parking lot fronted by an abused, brick-fronted warehouse and dry-cleaning operation. Located in the city’s historic and vibrant SoMa (south of Market Street) neighborhood, within reasonable walking distance to various public transportation options, the site afforded a reduction in the number of parking spaces per unit. The master plan includes only 30 vehicle spaces, supplemented by 28 bicycle stalls and a car-share pod as part of a citywide program.

That variance allowed the architect the freedom and footage to set back the building’s multicolored sections and provide balconies for several units. The design helps break up the building’s mass and makes it appear more like row houses than high-density (much less low-income) rentals, a critical element to its acceptance and integration into the neighborhood.