As a board member for Healthy Places by Design who works on affordable housing at the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, I often tout the connection between health and housing. Luckily, and somewhat belatedly, society increasingly understands just how interconnected housing and health are when considering challenges related to access, affordability, location, quality, and racial disparities. (Healthy Places by Design offers an overview of those connections here).
My vantage point as an affordable housing lender has enabled me to see several solutions that are scalable if more resources were available. One I am most encouraged by is the work of nonprofit affordable housing developers. These organizations tirelessly strive to house and empower low-income community members while increasingly adopting strategies that also mitigate climate change.
Case in point is the nonprofit affordable housing developer Twin Pines Housing and its Tracy Community Housing project in West Lebanon, NH, which is addressing many of the negative trends in housing and health while also reducing the project’s impact on the climate.
Tracy Community Housing is environmentally friendly. Nestled in the Upper Valley region where apartment vacancy rates are below 1%, Tracy Community Housing will be the state’s first net-zero multi-family building, meaning it creates as much renewable energy as it uses. This is possible through photovoltaic solar panels on the roof, cornice, and south façade, as well as on a solar arbor. Airtight walls and triple-paned windows efficiently maintain desired temperatures, and an Energy Recovery Ventilation unit (ERV) pre-heats, pre-cools, and dehumidifies air coming into the building, creating year-round comfort. Being net-zero also stabilizes operating costs, protecting against fluctuating energy prices. This is important for nonprofit housing developers, which typically manage the properties they create for decades.
Affordability and access to services are prioritized. Of its 29 units, 18 are reserved for households living below 50% of the Area Median Income, and 11 units are for households below 60%. The building offers modern amenities and is situated across the street from two key community assets: the town library and a hub for Advance Transit, the Upper Valley’s free bus service. Twin Pines Housing provides essential supportive services that help residents remain healthy and housed. Their staff, in partnership with local agencies and nonprofits, coordinates case management, social services, and food programs; aids residents with personal budgeting; and helps tenants with paperwork and applications for assistance.
Residents are treated with dignity and respect. Twin Pine’s overarching strategy is to meet its residents where they are in order to build trust and increase connections that help them develop self-sufficiency in their housing, nutrition, and mental and physical health. When these basic needs are met, residents have a greater ability to invest in themselves, their relationships, and their community. So, staff create programs to fill gaps. Many of these programs address food insecurity by bringing resources to residents. This includes once-a-month and weekly on-site food pantries, community gardens, and a weekday summer lunch program.
These efforts are impressive considering the immense and complex challenges that organizations like Twin Pines Housing face, especially when it comes to access to funding. Launching affordable housing developments often requires a mix of government grants, tax credit programs, and other sources of capital. These critical resources are in perennial short supply and vulnerable to cuts. Applying for awards and ensuring ongoing compliance is mind-numbingly complicated, often requiring expensive consultants and attorneys. After a property is built, well-trained staff are required to support ongoing management and robust, supportive services and programs. In short, existing finite resources are helpful, but not enough to meet the demand.
So, what can we do? Here are a few ideas:
Organizations like Twin Pines Housing show that we already have many of the tools we need to improve housing and health outcomes. We’re all in this together—let’s advocate for and use these tools to improve health and wellbeing across the country!