In fact, a coordinated effort among members of the design/build team prior to groundbreaking and during the build afforded cost efficiencies that enabled the project to remain within budget and its target price point. “Everyone was looking at it, asking what we could do to keep costs down,” says Brianna Conrow, construction project manager at HOST.
She also credits the builder, Bill Lenz at R&R Energy Resources in Portland, for his use of in-house crews (instead of subcontractors), a long track record of building high-performance housing, and the ability to negotiate volume discounts with its suppliers. “He’s able to control costs and the schedule,” says Conrow, which effectively translates to maintaining HOST’s affordability mission.
The Home Depot money, meanwhile, is underwriting the $1,500 cost to gain LEED certification once each home is completed. “Without that [grant], we’d have to look at whether certification was worth the cost,” says Miller, who admits that home prices trump anything else among Helensview’s potential buyers, though they do (and would still, without the certificate) appreciate the longer-term benefits of HOST’s efforts, specifically lower utility bills and healthier indoor air.
In fact, to maintain a price point that would enable buyers within 70% to 100% of the area’s median family income to purchase homes in Helensview, per the developer’s mission, the project team diligently whittled down a wish list of green building options to settle on those that benefited buyers and the community the most, remained within budget, and, lastly, qualified under LEED for Homes standards.
The result are homes priced $186,000 to $244,000—25% to 42% less than comparably sized detached units within the urban growth boundary. And these are far from shacks; HOST’s commitment to high-performance housing ensures the homes are durable and will remain efficient, but providing eight different floor plans, a thoughtful mix of contemporary and more traditional housing to integrate with existing buildings on different street frontages, and a high level of finishes inside and out—including fiber-cement lap siding and solid-wood cabinet fronts—goes far beyond the call of most affordable housing. The credit, says Conrow, goes to the upfront and ongoing effort to value-engineer the project.
It’s a comprehensive formula that has enabled HOST to sell 13 of the first phase of 20 detached units at Helensview Heights since opening in early 2008 (and four within a six-week span earlier this year) and, more important, establish the foundation of a sustainable, stable neighborhood.
While the homes (and specifically their prices) account for the bulk of that sales success, the stability of Helensview Heights also is rooted in its neighborhood. Not much had to be done to achieve a LEED-ND rating for the urban infill site, thanks to existing and nearby public transportation options (which allowed the project team to eliminate garages in favor of street parking), schools, and other public services. Park space within the plat and the high density and small footprints of the housing also scored points.
“If you have the right location, which we did, there’s not much effort to gain certification,” says Terry Miller, senior consultant for Green Building Resources in Portland, which served as the LEED-AP for the neighborhood development effort. “We made no significant changes to comply, and the synergy with building to LEED for Homes standards also helped.”
In addition to income thresholds, HOST targets families (particularly minority and single-parent households) and works to convert renters within the existing neighborhood into buyers so that they aren’t victims of gentrification. The developer also makes sure that its homes are always owner-occupied, a perpetual deed requirement that also maintains stability and housing values.
It’s an effort that HOST homeowners help watchdog and that the community around Helensview embraced by allowing the project to sail through the approvals process.