Maximizing the health and economic impacts of investments in efficiency
When public funds are used to increase efficiency in affordable housing, we should leverage those dollars to purchase building materials that benefit the health of the people living there and their local economy. A building product’s cost, reliability, and performance are important, but it’s not the whole story. There are other questions that are just as—if not more—significant to answer when selecting building products and materials for affordable housing.
1. Does the product contain harmful chemicals?
You can better understand if there are any toxic chemicals associated with a product through ingredient disclosures and health certifications.
2. Could the product adversely impact the health of residents and workers?
Harmful chemicals in building products pollute the indoor environment and these chemicals can negatively impact human health.
3. Can the products we use to build our homes provide additional benefits to workers and local economies?
Purchasing products made in the U.S. supports domestic manufacturing and the creation of good quality jobs.
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP)
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) or Green Purchasing aims to leverage the purchasing power of state and local governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air contaminants, limit environmental pollution and waste, improve public health, and encourage the use of renewable resources and clean technologies. They allow states and cities an opportunity to implement initiatives targeting healthy building practices, reduce toxic chemicals, and prioritize local sourcing. EPPs and similar green purchasing initiatives can have a significant impact on limiting hazardous toxic chemical exposures to residents, but are often overlooked when creating these initiatives.
Utilities around the country sponsor energy waste reduction programs—supported by ratepayers—that offer an excellent opportunity to reinvest in the community by prioritizing the purchase of building products made in-state.
Case Study: Ann Arbor Uses EPP to Help Address Potential Health Concerns for Workers and Residents
The City of Ann Arbor, Michigan’s EPP aims to improve health through reduced exposure to harmful chemicals contained in building materials and consumer products. Environmental factors such as total life cycle costs, potential impacts on human health, and pollutant releases and toxins—such as Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxics (PBTs)—are to be considered in product and service acquisitions. The EPP states that vendors and contractors consider product content to determine what is environmentally preferable, including if the products are free of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), flame-retardants, and antimicrobial chemicals, locally sourced, low in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), and have low toxicity. In addition, the EPP calls for the third-party certifications for products or services when applicable.
Case Study: Consumers Energy Public Utility Offers Rebates for Customers Investing in Energy Efficiency Upgrades
Consumers Energy, a public utility that provides gas and electricity service to 6.7 million residents in Michigan, offers rebates for residential and commercial customers that invest in energy efficiency upgrades that includes bonus incentives for customers that purchase products that are at least 50% manufactured within Michigan.
Building Clean Case Studies
These additional case studies put together by Building Clean highlight successful programs across the country that incentivize buying local or buying healthy
Qualified Allocation Plans (QAPs)
What is a QAP?
States design qualified allocation plans (QAPs) to administer Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs)—the largest initiative for developing affordable housing. Each year, state housing finance agencies (HFAs) accept project applications and distribute awards (tax credits) based on state priorities and criteria detailed in QAPs, with the overarching goal to serve residents with the lowest income and developing projects that will serve income-eligible residents for the longest period of time. While there is no uniformity—and rarely consistency—when comparing state QAPs, most use two instruments to guide decision-makers when awarding tax credits: threshold requirements and incentives. QAPs offer guidance and preferences on subjects such as siting a project in a more desirable location, housing amenities, meeting sustainability and energy efficiency standards, and assisting targeted populations.
A look at QAPs across the country
Building Clean performed a comprehensive review of QAP provisions in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the cities of New York and Chicago looking at how they prioritize healthy building materials, energy efficiency, racial equity, labor standards and workforce development in their scoring criteria. The resulting “Building a Better Affordable Housing Future” report includes a scorecard of how states rank in integrating these provisions into their QAP criteria.
Improving incentives in QAPs
Building Clean has been active in encouraging states to consider QAP provisions that promote the use of building products that are healthier and made locally. In adding these incentives, states can demonstrate their desire to improve affordable housing conditions, create jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Building Clean's Healthy Building Practices in QAPs report shows that many states already require or incentivize projects to include third-party green building certifications, many of which prioritize the use of healthier building materials. Learn more about healthier building practices in green building certifications here.
In addition, states may include prescriptive criteria, such as mandating formaldehyde-free products, banning two-party spray polyurethane foam, and requiring third-party product certifications such as Green Seal, GREENGUARD and Indoor Advantage.
Several state QAPs incentivize sourcing materials in-state or within a specified radius of the project. For example, in Michigan, all projects must demonstrate the use of products and goods that are manufactured by Michigan-based companies and incorporate them into the proposed development.
Leveraging federal programs for Building Clean initiatives
The recent passage of two historic federal laws offer new opportunities to make investments in improving the efficiency of affordable housing while benefiting the health of workers and residents. Both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act provide funding and financing options for programs to revitalize U.S. manufacturing, retrofit residential and commercial buildings, and advance environmental and racial justice. Using these new investments to impact decision making about building products in affordable housing can decrease exposures to hazardous materials, improve the physical and economic health of marginalized communities and rebuild the American manufacturing sector.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
The law allocates $3.5 billion in additional funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which provides assistance for low-income households to increase the energy efficiency of their homes and lower their energy bills. Recipients of WAP also receive health benefits, through the elimination of health and safety hazards prior to weatherization and with weatherized homes improving indoor ventilation and indoor air quality. Studies have shown weatherization to alleviate many asthma triggers and reduce emergency room visits. BlueGreen Alliance created a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law User Guide, which outlines programs on building efficiency, funding allocations, and who is eligible.
Inflation Reduction Act
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is a robust package to revitalize U.S. manufacturing and grow clean energy around the country, invest in economic and racial justice programs, and support and create good-paying, union jobs. The law includes grant funding to improve energy efficiency, safety, health, and affordability of homes. For example, it provides $4.3 billion for whole home retrofits, such as improved insulation, and $200 million for contractor training for energy efficiency improvements. It also includes $1 billion for energy efficiency, water efficiency, and climate resilience in affordable housing. These investments in residential energy efficiency complement the historic investment made in the Weatherization Assistance Program and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program in the BIL.
The sum of these programs will translate into lower energy bills for households, quality jobs in the community, and reduced emissions that significantly move us towards our national climate action goals. Visit the BlueGreen Alliance’s Inflation Reduction Act User Guide for more information on efficiency programs being funded by this legislation.
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