Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Can Affordable Housing Be Green?

In short, yes! Many assume that green homebuilding, which often costs more at the outset, is not appropriate for affordable housing. However, the greening of affordable housing can actually be more economical because over time homeowners will benefit from lower utility bills, fewer maintenance costs, and healthier environments. Affordable housing developers and operators also benefit from higher quality, more efficient, and more durable buildings. Buildings that are integrated to the site, use energy, water and materials wisely, minimize and recycle construction waste, create their own energy, are durable and easily maintained, and promote good health for both workers and residents enhance housing affordability as well.

One of the initial hindrances to affordable housing is that developers of affordable housing face financial hurdles before most homes are built to environmental standards. Housing affordability is usually measured by the initial construction costs. Green building often requires additional upfront costs and so does not appear to promote affordability from the outset. The Natural Resources Defense Council found that the upfront costs of contracting a LEED certified green building project tend to match or only slightly exceed those of comparable non-green buildings.

To assess the true affordability of green building practices, proponents argue for a life-cycle approach that accounts for both upfront capital costs and long-term operating expenses to measure affordability. Case studies conducted by New Ecology found that energy and water costs for green housing were significantly lower than for conventional housing. Total development costs for the green projects reviewed ranged from 18% below to 9% above (about $34,800 less per unit to $9,700 more per unit) the costs for comparable conventional affordable housing. This wide range was mostly attributable to whether the developer retained a long-term ownership interest and whether the owners or residents were responsible for utility costs. From a life-cycle valuation perspective, the studies showed that the benefits of green affordable housing are real and, in some cases, substantial.

For developers to be successful implementing green features into affordable housing they must incorporate and integrate green features into a project early, and assemble an experienced green team which will employ an integrated design approach and utilize life-cycle costs in evaluating the economics of the project. For policymakers, creating innovative funding mechanisms that recognize the long-term value of green projects, instituting higher mandatory standards for energy efficiency in building codes, and adopting a minimum green standard for affordable housing, are the important elements to better implement green, affordable housing. A better understanding of the costs and benefits of green affordable housing projects will ensure that greening affordable housing is cost effective and will be pursued.

-Elizabeth Barron, Legal Intern

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sunshine not just in the Sunshine State: The Freedom of Information Act

In March of 2011 the Department of Justice launched its new website,, which hopes to make all information about the Freedom of Information Act easy to access and user friendly. This website was launched as part of the Department of Justice’s Open Government Plan and hopes to be “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.” The Open Government Initiative, commenced during Obama’s first year of office, strives to require federal agencies to become more transparent to the public and to encourage public participation. takes Florida’s government in the sunshine law one step further by giving citizens all over the United States access to information at the federal level in an easy to use and easy to understand format. The website includes video lessons, advice to the public concerning use of the Freedom of Information Act, an explanation of the Act, the number of Freedom of Information requests received and how to submit a request. Additionally, the site contains a frequently asked questions page including useful information, as well as compilations regarding each agency’s Freedom of Information Data at a glance or through a detailed report complied by the agency or complied by the user. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the site contains contact information for every federal agency, including which agency to request information from and where that information should be sent.

This website is a milestone for the Freedom of Information Act and for information accessibility in general. By compiling all this information in a single website the Department of Justice has illuminated this previously unknown or impossible to access area of the government and has increased access for not only attorneys and practitioners but for the public as well. Not only is this site innovative and user friendly but it leaves room for improvement and public comments on the accessibility of the website, how easy it is to navigate, and up to date contact information for Federal agencies is welcomed.

-Ashley Geary, Legal Intern

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Renewable Energy the Big Winner in Super Bowl XLVI

While the New York Giants may have beaten the New England Patriots 21-17, the overall winner in Super Bowl XLVI was renewable energy. Electricity at all six major Super Bowl facilities was generated by wind farms located in North Dakota. Everything from the computers in the Motorola Super Bowl XLVI Media Center to the lights on the field were powered by green energy!

Green Mountain Energy Company was selected to supply 15,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy certificates (RECs) to offset greenhouse gas emissions associated with the electricity used at the major NFL venues. RECs provide an additional revenue stream that can help build future renewable energy facilities. In total the RECs will avoid more than 14,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions associated with Super Bowl electricity consumption.

The NFL Environmental Program, now in its 18th year, has developed a series of initiatives to minimize the impact of Super Bowl activities on the local and global environment. These initiatives include:
1. A comprehensive solid waste management and recycling program at major NFL event facilities;
2. Incorporation of wind and solar renewable energy certificates to provide green power for major Super Bowl XLVI event venues and team hotels;
3. Use of carbon offset credits to address the transportation emissions created by Super Bowl team travel;
4. Reforestation projects that involve the planting of several thousand trees in local neighborhoods as part of the overall "greening" of Super Bowl XLVI.

Certainly we can all root for this!

-Elizabeth Barron, Legal Extern

Thursday, February 2, 2012

How will Northeast Florida grow?

The Northeast Florida Region faces challenges including growth, preserving valuable eco-systems, improving economic viability, and maintaining the quality of life that makes this region unique. The region is at a critical juncture, expected to grow by 1.6 million people and 650,000 jobs by 2050. Rapid change and recent economic challenges have heightened awareness that growth related issues are best addressed on the regional level.

Nearly two years ago leaders from the non-government sector, business, and government, participated in a regional visioning exercise called Reality Check First Coast. The visioning process resulted in the publication of First Coast Vision, released in October, 2011. First Coast Vision details the process that looked at current growth trends and worked to build a unified vision for future growth over the next 50 years. Of the nearly 500 people who participated in the visioning exercises their visions focused on the following:

-Using less land than what would be required to grow as the region has currently been growing; --Protecting and conserving open spaces, agricultural lands, and natural resources;
-Promoting compact and sustainable mixed-use development that allows for a balance of people and jobs that could reduce commute times;
-Increasing density and promoting infill in existing developed areas, which could reduce infrastructure demands and make transit a viable option;
-Promoting economic vitality and competiveness while capitalizing on regional assets and promoting community identity.

As Northeast Florida’s visioning plan is codified for the next 50 years, its importance is even greater now that state growth management has been effectively gutted. With no state oversight local communities will be in charge of growth management and Northeast Florida is poised to face future growth challenges and preserve the region’s natural and scenic resources.

-Elizabeth Barron, Legal Intern