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Affordable Housing and the Climate Crisis: Sustainable Solutions

Community Development
Affordable Housing and the Climate Crisis: Sustainable Solutions

Tackling the Dual Challenge of Affordable Homes and Climate Resilience

I’ll never forget the day I met Noraly Sainz. As I stepped into her brand-new, three-bedroom home in San Bernardino, California, the sheer joy and relief radiating from her face was palpable. You see, Noraly’s story is one of resilience – both in the face of personal tragedy and the daunting obstacles to affordable homeownership.

In 2020, Noraly’s husband passed away, leaving her to care for their four young boys in a cramped, 900-square-foot apartment. Determined to provide a better life for her family, Noraly turned to Neighborhood Partnership Housing Services (NPHS), a nonprofit dedicated to building climate-resilient, affordable homes.

Fast forward a year and a half, and Noraly was the proud owner of an energy-efficient, fire-resistant home – complete with a dining room, porch, and garage. “At first, it seemed too good to be true,” Noraly shared with me, her eyes sparkling. “I was able to become a homeowner, even though I’m in the low-income category.”

Noraly’s story is a testament to the transformative power of innovative, sustainable housing solutions – a critical piece of the puzzle in tackling the intertwined challenges of the affordable housing crisis and the looming climate emergency. As the United States grapples with these dual crises, organizations like NPHS are pioneering new approaches to build climate-resilient homes that are within reach for families like Noraly’s.

The Affordable Housing Crisis: A Deepening Chasm

The affordable housing crisis in the United States is no secret. Across the country, housing supply is scarce, and prices continue to soar. In fact, most people employed in full-time, minimum-wage jobs can’t even afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment in any state in the country.

Affordable, sustainable homeownership is integral to building household wealth, but the path to homeownership is especially daunting for Black and Latino families. Only 43.4% and 51.1% of these households are homeowners, respectively, compared to 72.1% for White households. First-time buyers made up a mere 26% of the housing market between July 2021 and June 2022 – the lowest level since 1981. And a staggering 88% of those buyers were White, the highest level in 25 years.

The numbers paint a bleak picture. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that there’s a need nationwide for at least 7 million more affordable homes. And as the climate crisis intensifies, the situation is only going to get worse. In 2022 alone, natural disasters caused approximately 3.4 million people to evacuate their homes in the US.

The Climate Crisis Compounds the Housing Challenge

When homes are built with construction materials that can’t withstand extreme weather, they become especially vulnerable to natural disasters. And these homes are often located in low-income communities, further exacerbating the housing crisis.

Take California, for example. As the state grapples with a severe affordable housing shortage and skyrocketing costs, it’s also facing the brunt of climate change. Regions prone to flooding and excessive heat, like much of California, are disproportionately impacted when homes can’t withstand these extreme weather events.

It’s a vicious cycle: the lack of affordable, climate-resilient housing pushes families into more vulnerable living situations, which in turn leaves them at greater risk when disaster strikes. And the cycle continues, with each crisis compounding the other.

So, what can be done to break this cycle and provide sustainable, affordable housing solutions for families like Noraly’s? The answer lies in innovative approaches that tackle both the affordable housing crisis and the climate emergency head-on.

A Sustainable Solution: Factory-Built, Climate-Resilient Homes

In Southern California, a new pilot program supported by a $3 million commitment from JPMorgan Chase is doing just that. The program, led by Neighborhood Partnership Housing Services (NPHS), is focused on increasing the supply of affordable, sustainable, and climate-resilient homes for cost-burdened communities, including households of color.

“Housing affordability and sustainability are focus areas of the firm, and they affect communities across the country,” says Mercedeh Mortazavi, vice president of global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase. “So, we’re proud to support organizations advancing both issues together. To address the needs of the communities we serve, we need to have holistic approaches to solving the most challenging issues.”

The key to NPHS’s approach lies in a factory-built housing model that is not only less expensive but also more sustainable. By building homes in a factory, construction costs can be reduced by up to 20%, making homeownership more accessible to lower-income buyers. Moreover, manufacturing the homes indoors using sustainable materials can lower carbon emissions by up to 3 tons per home.

“Our new factory-built model creates an equity-driven, manufactured housing-supply platform,” explains Clemente Arturo Mojica, CEO of NPHS. “This housing is being intentionally created to foster the economic growth of people in underserved, distressed communities.”

But the benefits of this innovative approach go beyond just cost savings and reduced emissions. These factory-built homes are also designed to be climate-adaptive and energy-efficient, saving homeowners money on utility bills in the long run.

“Both spacious and energy-efficient, Noraly’s home, like all of NPHS’s houses, has the highest Energy Star rating, which will help her save as much as $475 on her annual utility bill,” Mojica proudly shares.

Building Resilience, Brick by Brick

But the sustainability and affordability features of these homes are only half the story. NPHS has also engineered them to be highly resilient, able to withstand the extreme weather events that are becoming more and more common due to climate change.

“Built to wild urban interface specifications, the house is both fire-resistant and climate-adaptive, with a solar-ready roof and a 200-amp meter upgrade that can accommodate a charging station for an electric vehicle,” Mojica explains.

This level of climate-resilience is crucial, especially for families like Noraly’s, who are disproportionately affected by the impacts of natural disasters. By providing homes that can withstand the ravages of extreme weather, NPHS is not only securing Noraly’s family’s physical safety but also safeguarding their financial future.

As Noraly puts it, “You have no idea how good it feels just to be able to give my kids this kind of space. It’s the biggest gift.” And she’s eager to share her story, because she wants other people to benefit from these life-changing programs too.

A Holistic Approach to the Housing Crisis

The work of NPHS and the support of JPMorgan Chase represent a holistic approach to tackling the affordable housing crisis and the climate emergency. By addressing both issues simultaneously, they’re creating sustainable solutions that have the power to transform lives and build resilient communities.

“We need to have holistic approaches to solving the most challenging issues,” Mortazavi emphasizes. “JPMorgan Chase is proud to support a number of organizations working on scalable, innovative, climate-resilient affordable housing models like NPHS’s.”

And the impact of this collaboration is already being felt. Thanks to the $3 million commitment from JPMorgan Chase, NPHS is poised to supply 100 sustainable, climate-resilient homes per year by 2027, helping families like Noraly’s achieve the dream of homeownership.

As I bid farewell to Noraly and her boys, settling into their new home, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hope. This is the kind of change we need – innovative, equitable, and sustainable solutions that address the root causes of the affordable housing crisis and the climate emergency.

It’s a tall order, to be sure, but organizations like NPHS are proving that it’s possible. And with the support of partners like JPMorgan Chase, who are committed to driving real, lasting impact, I believe we can create a future where families like Noraly’s can thrive, no matter the challenges they face.

After all, as Noraly herself said, “You have no idea how good it feels just to be able to give my kids this kind of space.” And that, to me, is the very essence of what affordable, sustainable housing should be – a foundation for families to build their dreams, their wealth, and their resilience.

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