Climate Conversations: Homeowners Rehab’s Sustainable Affordable Housing

Finch Cambridge (New Ecology Photo)

 

Boasting spacious open floor plans, large (and triple-glazed) windows and closets, community rooms, and a rooftop terrace, Homeowners Rehab’s Finch Cambridge is a beautiful, and affordable, place to live. Beyond the physical features of the 98-unit apartment building at Fresh Pond, Finch is the first Passive House certified affordable, multifamily housing development in Massachusetts, equipped with high-efficiency heating and cooling, sustainable finishes, a 105kW Solar PV system, and Energy Star appliances in every unit.  

Finch Cambridge, located between the Alewife and Cambridge Highlands neighborhoods, is a model project for sustainable design, community-building, and high-quality affordable housing. HRI is committed to the development of more sustainable, affordable housing. “HRI, for over 25 years, has been trying to incorporate sustainability and energy conservation efforts into our development any time we can, in terms of new construction and occupied or major rehab,” said Director of Development Jane Carbone.  

Many of HRI’s projects are LEED Platinum certified and all are Enterprise Green Communities certified, two commonly used standards for energy-efficient, healthy design. In doing so, HRI is aligned with the City of Cambridge’s efforts to decarbonize. They work closely with the City throughout their development process. “We’re pretty mindful of what the City of Cambridge’s goals are for the reduction of carbon emissions,” Carbone said.  

Cambridge’s efforts are part of a broader movement to electrify buildings and improve energy efficiency. HRI has recently signed on to the U.S Department of Energy’s Better Climate Challenge, pledging to reduce their portfolio-wide scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% within 10 years. Part of the emissions reductions are incorporating renewable energy in their buildings and assessing where solar PV placement is optimal.   

One of HRI’s other projects is a damaged three-story apartment building. “The triple-decker that we are working on had a fire in November 2020,” Project Manager Eleni Macrakis said. “We are looking to do a gut renovation. The fire damage wasn’t too much, but the water damage from the fire department was expensive [to address].”   

To renovate the triple-decker, HRI stripped it down to the studs and is rebuilding it even better with all-electric systems, upgraded kitchens and baths, sustainable finishes, and solar. “The outside cladding was intact, so we are creating a thicker envelope on the inside so that we’re building out a stud wall and insulating the wall. The goal is to get to as close to net-zero [as possible],” Carbone said.  

To those that are hesitant to support new developments, HRI points to their successful track record to earn the community’s trust. While development of affordable housing often faces opposition as a result of NIMBYism, residents in Cambridge have been more supportive of HRI’s developments because of the sustainability aspects. “People who don’t like development generally were supportive of Finch,” said Will Monson, Senior Project Manager. “They knew it was Passive House and knew what we were trying to do.”  

“People have seen the impact in their own community of flooding and heat events. Those events are so close to home that people not only support but require us to achieve those levels [in response]. I think it helps our projects if we’re doing all of the climate measures,” Carbone said. Beyond assessing the buildings’ energy use and sustainable features, HRI also develops resident programs that promote healthy living for the community.  

With the measures they are taking to design climate-resilient, energy-efficient buildings, HRI is paving the way for the future of affordable housing. “With climate change and these measures, a lot of it is data collection,” Carbone said. “It’s important that we show folks that this can be done and there’s a way to collect the data to show it can be done. Then we share that knowledge so other people can learn from our experiences. That’s very important to move this agenda along.”