Sustaining the Future by Preserving the Past

3 min read

NH&RA Presents on Adaptive Reuse at the Better Buildings Summit

What makes a better building?

The Obama Administration has answered that question with an ambitious focus on energy efficiency. It launched the Better Buildings Challenge in 2011 and aims to reduce energy use among buildings, from residential to commercial to public, by 20% over the next 10 years. The Department of Energy, which spearheads the initiative, convened more than 900 participants for the 2015 Better Buildings Summit in Washington, DC, this May.

Peter Bell, President & CEO of the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association, presented at the Summit, leading a conversation on producing better buildings using resources that already exist in our communities. Bell and two other panelists examined the relationship between adaptive reuse, energy conservation, and the built environment.

“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.”

The panel session took an in-depth look at how adaptive reuse can improve the environment in more ways than one. 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 the 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, 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 should not 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.

The Better Buildings Challenge 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.

Thom joined National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA) in 2004 and currently serves as its as Executive Vice-President and Executive Director. NH&RA is a national trade association and peer-network for affordable housing and tax credit developers and related professionals including: investors, lenders, public agencies and professional advisers. Thom directs the association’s day-to-day operations including legislative and regulatory advocacy, committee activities, conferences and events, publications, financial management and strategic planning. Thom also serves as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Developers Council, a state-wide trade association for affordable housing developers and professionals active in Tennessee. In 2013 he spearheaded the launch of NH&RA's Preservation through Energy Efficiency Project, a major educational initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Thom also serves on the Board of Directors for International Center for Appropriate & Sustainable Technology (iCAST) as well as the Advisory Board for its ResourceSmart program, a turn-key, cost-effective, green rehab provider for multifamily affordable and market-rate housing communities and nonprofit facilities. Thom is a frequent speaker at affordable housing, sustainable development and tax credit industry events and has been published in a variety of industry journals including Tax Credit Advisor, Independent Banker, and the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credit Housing. Thom also serves as the Associate Publisher of Tax Credit Advisor, a monthly magazine for tax credit and affordable housing professionals and is an Executive Vice-President at Dworbell Inc., a boutique association management and communications firm in Washington, DC. Thom was previously employed at a national lobbying firm focusing on financial services and technology issues. Prior to moving to Washington, Thom worked in media relations in the New York State Assembly and as a research assistant for New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Thom graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with a double major in Political Science and History.