NH&RA President Addresses Balance of Historic Rehabilitation and Sustainable Development at Better Buildings Summit

Washington, DC – May 28, 2015 – Peter Bell, President and CEO of National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA), explored the relationship between the adaptive reuse of historic buildings, energy conservation and the built environment at the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2015 Better Buildings Summit in Washington, DC.

“Our environment shapes our behavior,” Bell explained to the panel session’s audience. “When a kid grows up surrounded by blighted buildings, he starts to wonder what’s wrong with him. Adaptive reuse takes what a community already has and makes it beautiful again.”

Rehabilitating historic buildings can have a positive impact on the environment in another sense as well. Bell shared examples with the audience of historic rehabilitations that maintained buildings’ historic character while introducing sustainable features like solar panels, recycled materials, and geo-thermal heating and cooling systems. Several of the properties Bell highlighted were recognized for their innovation with J. Timothy Anderson Awards for Excellence in Historic Rehabilitation. NH&RA hosts the “Timmys” each year to recognize the preservation and restoration of historic properties.

Bell also talked with the audience about the challenges inherent in reconciling historic preservation and sustainable development. For example, while restoring damaged or functionally obsolete double hung windows may preserve a historic feature of a building; however, they might be too heavy for residents to open and close easily and as a result are often left open when they shouldn’t be. Developers also face issues with installing rooftop solar arrays as well as using energy efficient materials while preserving key aspects of historic properties. “Sometimes developers need to come up with creative solutions to maintain the “smile” of the building while maximizing energy efficiency,” Bell said.

Kevin O’Connor, Rural Ulster Preservation Company, and Kristine Vey, University of Virginia, joined Bell on the Adaptive Reuse panel to discuss their own case studies of historic rehabilitation. The session was one of many at the Better Buildings Summit, which convened participants from across the country to discuss strategies for improving energy efficiency in buildings. Better Buildings was launched in 2011 with the goal of decreasing commercial, industrial, residential, and public buildings energy use by 20% by 2021. The Better Buildings Challenge, which is a cornerstone of the program, already has more than 250 participating buildings working toward reducing energy use. Several NH&RA members have made a commitment to contribute to this effort. The following members are Better Buildings partners:

  • Beacon Communities
  • BRIDGE Housing Corporation
  • Century Housing
  • Community Housing Partners Corporation
  • Eden Housing
  • Homes for America
  • Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly
  • McCormack Baron Salazar
  • National Church Residences
  • Preservation of Affordable Housing
  • San Antonio Housing Authority
  • The Community Builders, Inc.
  • Trinity Management
  • Volunteers of America
  • WinnDevelopment
  • Wishrock Investment Group

The NH&RA Preservation Through Energy Efficiency Initiative is also working toward reducing energy use in the multifamily housing sector. The MacArthur Foundation-funded initiative has hosted six road show events to connect owners and developers with the resources and information they need to invest in energy efficiency measures. The road shows convene energy efficiency experts with local utilities and programs to walk owners through energy and water retrofits that can improve cash flow and reduce operating expenses across their portfolios. NH&RA will host a seventh PTEE Road Show in Chicago in September 2015.