Smart Growth Guidelines for Sustainable Design and Development
How and where communities locate, design, and develop affordable housing affects their overall approach to growth as much as it does the household budgets of their residents. Communities that seek to grow and develop more sustainably can begin by asking themselves the following questions:
- Is affordable housing in my community well located, near transportation choices, and away from sensitive natural areas?
- Are new housing developments designed to encourage walking, connect to nearby uses and amenities, and incorporate parks and open space?
- Are affordable homes being constructed with materials and techniques that reduce energy and water use and improve resident health and well-being?
If the answer to one or more of these questions is "no," then a community is unlikely to be growing in a manner that is economically or environmentally sustainable.
A conventional approach that locates affordable housing in isolated pockets far from jobs and commercial centers leads to more driving for residents and the need for more costly road and infrastructure investments. The conventional approach also contributes to a higher "true" cost of housing for residents, one that includes rent or mortgage payments plus the cost of transportation associated with the home's location. Housing is generally deemed affordable if it represents 30 percent or less of household income. Yet for working families — those in greatest need of affordable housing — the combined cost of housing and transportation accounts for 57 percent of household income, on average. This cost burden is greatest for lower-income families, who spend as much as 30 percent of their household income on transportation — nearly equal to the cost of housing alone.1
Where housing is located and the transportation options it offers make a dramatic difference in how affordable a home really is. Other ways to make housing more affordable include techniques and materials that reduce energy and water consumption and improve indoor air quality. Together, smart growth and green building approaches help communities create opportunities for housing that are more affordable at the household level and more sustainable at the community level.
Smart Growth Guidelines for Sustainable Design and Development is a resource for communities that seek to locate, design, and develop housing — particularly affordable housing — in a way that reduces household costs, improves residents' quality of life, and invests public resources more sustainably. The guidelines can serve as a checklist for local officials, state or regional policy makers, developers, and community members to ensure that programs, plans, and proposed developments incorporate the elements needed at the location, site, and building levels to result in more sustainable, affordable housing.
The guidelines provide a range of specific approaches that can incorporated at each step of the housing development process, from site selection to building design. They are organized under three central strategies:
1) Identifying prosperous smart growth locations;
2) Creating "place" through neighborhood design; and
3) Employing green building and infrastructure techniques.
Each strategy includes a range of objectives and supporting guidelines that can be used to help shape programs, policies, community-based plans, and even specific proposed housing developments to achieve better, more sustainable outcomes.
While they are not a substitute for certification, these guidelines support communities or projects to use the approaches included in formal certification programs, such as LEED, LEED-ND, Green Communities, or others. Those that seek to obtain certification under one of these programs will have a strong foundation on which to do so if they employ the strategies featured in this publication.
The guidelines are a product of a 2009 EPA Smart Growth Implementation Assistance project with the Capitol Region Council of Governments in Connecticut, in which they are being used to help shape the implementation of the state's Home Connecticut affordable housing program. They were developed for EPA and CRCOG by Jonathan Rose Companies, LLC, and Wallace Roberts Todd, LLC.
Free printed copies of this report are available upon request. Please email email@example.com or call 800-490-9198 and request document # EPA 231-K-09-004.
1Lipman, Barbara, A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families (PDF) (32 pp, 4.4MB, About PDF) , Center for Housing Policy, October 2006.