While many apartment firms have already taken steps to make their projects more sustainable, many are now looking to take these efforts beyond their property lines, aiding in the creation of eco-districts. Eco-districts tie together planning, development, construction and management across communities and cities with the goal of driving economic development, environmental practices and community health and improvement.
While such district- and neighborhood-scale efforts have the ability to enact significant environmental change, they are also wrought with challenges, according to a panel of experts at the 2015 NMHC Spring Board of Directors and Executive Committee Meeting.
An eco-district is only possible with the buy-in and support of the local municipality, noted several executives. However, at the same time, municipalities’ traditional way of doing business can pose some challenges in moving the needle on energy, water and transportation savings.
For example, Thomas Madden, director of economic development for the City of Stamford, Conn., said that he had run into difficulties trying to explain that investments in energy efficiency improvements often come at little to no cost to cities when a wider view of budgetary management is used. “Through energy savings, we’re taking out of the operations budget that normally would pay for the electrical charge and moving it over to the reinvestment,” he explained. But sometimes being able to transcend ledger lines is more difficult that it would seem on paper.
Moreover, financing such large-scale efforts is also a challenge because traditional financing isn’t always available, especially for retrofit efforts. Executives highlighted the importance of PACE financing and also noted that expertise in this type of sustainable development financing is building up.
Cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Pittsburg, Seattle and others are working on wider-scale sustainability efforts, starting by getting building owners to commit to reducing their energy costs by 20 percent over a period of time. But benchmarking efforts can come with significant hurdles. In many cases, utility companies refuse to cooperate, limiting building owners’ access to pertinent energy usage data.
Check out some examples of eco-districts in the making here.