Even some non-profit affordable housing projects--which are almost always green--are being delayed due to California’s budget crisis, which has made it difficult to sell bonds and tax credits, Baker says.

Heather Ferrier of Ferrier Custom Homes in Ft. Worth, Texas, says the stock market decline had the biggest impact on her family’s sustainable-building business. “We had clients who overnight were severely impacted by the plunge, which caused their home building plans to be postponed, in some cases indefinitely.”

In Denver, where housing starts are down 59% from a year ago, officials of Colorado’s 14-year-old green building program recently made a painful decision: Built Green Colorado, one of the first programs of its kind in the country, stopped accepting home registrations June 1. “We are facing an economy that is extremely challenging for us all,” said director Kim Calomino in a letter to members. “The financial realities of today’s housing market force us to make very difficult decisions. The HBA of Metro Denver has in fact reached one of those difficult decisions regarding Built Green Colorado: Built Green Colorado cannot afford to operate under its current structure and in its current form.”

And late in May, Oakland, Calif.-based Michelle Kaufmann Designs shut down, a victim of deflated housing prices and the credit industry meltdown. The closing of the company, a highly respected designer of pre-fab green homes, sent shock waves through the residential architectural community.

“Despite our best efforts, the financial meltdown and plunging home values have caught up with us,” architect Kaufmann wrote on the company blog. “The recent closing of a factory partner as well as the gridlocked lending faced by homeowners has proved more than our small company can bear.”

Eco-friendly affordable housing projects are helping to keep David Baker + Partners, a San Francisco architectural firm, afloat. The firm has two such projects in the planning stages. “Without them our current situation would have been bleak,” Baker says.

Eco-friendly affordable housing projects are helping to keep David Baker + Partners, a San Francisco architectural firm, afloat. The firm has two such projects in the planning stages. “Without them our current situation would have been bleak,” Baker says.

Credit: Courtesy David Baker + Partners

Silver Lining
For some green pros, in certain markets, there is a silver lining to all the bad news.

For example, Ferrier says although some of her clients have had to deal with financial setbacks, others have recommitted themselves to building sustainable homes. “For those individuals, the current market conditions have only refueled their passion to move forward with building sustainable homes,” she says.

Her company is proof that there are still financial opportunities in her Texas market for veteran green builders: Ferrier Custom Homes is having a record year. “The experienced green builders who have been doing this for a while--who know that green is more than just a fad,” are surviving and even thriving, she says. “Those who are truly committed, and have established themselves as so, are riding it out.”

Chevy Chase, Md.-based Bethesda Bungalows also is riding the wave of interest in sustainable and energy-efficient homes. The company is known for building small- to medium-sized green residences on infill lots in Washington, D.C.’s close-in neighborhoods.

While the market for spec homes has dramatically dropped, vice president Brad Beeson says the company’s custom home business is thriving. “It’s been really busy--super busy,” he says. “A lot of it is because that we are known locally as a green builder. That has been really good for business.”