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Building Spaces of Belonging

Building a home has always been more than a construction project on a plot of land. It’s the creation of a place of physical and psychological safety where hopes and dreams can flourish, a place to make connections with others, raise families and grow old, a place to call home. These spaces of belonging are the foundation for building community.

Young girl with construction hat playing

Despite the myriad benefits of owning a home, many community members don’t have access to homeownership or are subjected to higher rates of environmental pollution due to codified and institutional systems that persist to this day. Many also lack living-wage jobs that would make homeownership more attainable. In order to overcome these disparities, an equitable, just, and inclusive approach is required, one that opens the door to homeownership as well as living-wage jobs in the building trades.

Sustainability Venn diagram

Social institutions and equity are core components of sustainability and sustainable development and have been a value of the Built Green program from its beginning. Other green building certifications have looked to address equity by encouraging the construction of affordable housing units. Built Green was the first residential certification in the country to establish a requirement that focused on how the entire home building process – from developer to homebuyer– can move the needle on equity and social justice.

Developers, designers, and builders direct how capital resources are distributed through site selection, design aesthetics and function, who is hired for the job, and what vendors are used to source materials. Using these investment decisions to create spaces of belonging and centering equity in turn provides economic and growth opportunities, reduction in turnover costs, and increases the applicant labor pool for builders to capitalize on.

Built Green implemented the Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) Section into its latest checklists to codify the intent of addressing inequality and alleviating barriers experienced by marginalized populations. To accomplish this the Built Green team started by reallocating long-standing credits for building accessory dwelling units, stakeholder engagement, and transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly, and accessible design into this new section. Additional new credits were conceived to offer flexibility to a variety of company sizes, project types, and site contexts. The new credits were crafted through a process of stakeholder outreach and taking inspiration from existing equity scorecards and of what some Built Green members were already doing.

The ESJ credits are intended to support developers, designers, and builders in their efforts to promote equity and inclusion, one home at a time. They provide mutually beneficial actions builders can take to address workforce supply and retention, climate resiliency, accessibility, and homeownership.

To alleviate concerns about how builders can incorporate this new Built Green requirement into their projects, the remainder of this article offers clarification on writing a project-specific ESJ Plan and implementation examples for different star levels.

Writing a Project-Specific ESJ Plan

Anyone who has managed a project, especially as one as complicated as building a home, knows that if it’s not written down in the plan it doesn’t get done. A project-specific ESJ plan is like any other plan that is produced as part of the project management process: a project team must first consider their options given project constraints, then develop objectives, determine actions to take, assign responsibilities, and create a timeline to achieve each objective. A project-specific ESJ plan is required for all projects seeking 4-star certification or higher.

A sample process for writing an ESJ plan is described below.

1. With the project team, consider the project, site, and the company’s context. Based on that context, brainstorm some ways the project could incorporate equity and social justice into its design, build, or sales process. Tip: Look to the ESJ section of the checklist for ideas of how this could be done.

2. Using the Builder’s letterhead write a memo, using an extended outline format that describes possible ESJ objectives that could be incorporated in the project. For each ESJ objective provide the specific action items that will achieve its intent (including as much specific details as possible), ESJ credits related to these actions, responsible party accountable for implementation, and anticipated completion timeline/project phase. Tip: Action items could be the specific ESJ credits associated with those objectives. See handbook for examples.

    a. Only list realistic and relevant objectives and actions that could be used by the project. For example, if the project was financed and planned to be sold for market rate, then the objective of providing workforce housing is not realistic or applicable. If the home is built on a sloped property than having a stepless front entry would not be a realistic action item to an objective of increasing universal access.

    b. Alternatively, Gantt chart can also be used as a format for the ESJ plan to document the objectives, actions, responsible party and implementation timeline.

3. Highlight or bold the text of any priority ESJ objectives in the list. Priority ESJ objectives are defined as those with the highest possible impact to increase equity and social justice. Tip: Priority items may not always be the most expensive or time consuming. Community or stakeholder outreach can provide valuable insight to what is considered a priority of local residents and also earns ESJ credits.

4. Of all the objectives and actions that are possible, document which ones the project team is committed to achieve on this project.

5. If any of the priority objectives or actions were not committed to, describe the reasons why they were not selected.

 

ESJ plan snapshot text

The ESJ plan will not be graded on which objectives or actions are listed or how many of them are implemented on the project. The intent is for project teams to start building their ESJ muscles and to begin considering it like any other part of the project’s planning process. Like with other new green building strategies, with each project, teams will learn from the experience, create a palette of ESJ actions that streamline the process, and eventually weave it into the company’s culture.

ESJ Implementation

The following tables layout example strategies a hypothetical project team could perform to earn points for ESJ credits at each star level. Please keep in mind there are multitudes of credit combinations and ways for each of these credits to be implemented, and that some ESJ credits will also earn the project points in other sections of the checklist:

3-Star Single Family home in rural community (15 points minimum)

ESJ Action/Credit Implementation Points
6-14: Stepless front entry and stepless other entry No steps to access home’s front door and stepless access to garage 3
6-16: Install exterior accessible hard surface gathering area Home has a patio that requires no stairs or steps to access from the home 1
6-23: Bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and laundry appliances on main floor Home’s main entry leads to the main floor that was designed for aging in place 8
6-26: Design low maintenance outdoor spaces Landscape designed with drought tolerant and native perennials, trees, and shrubs* 1
6-32: Design to promote and encourage pedestrian-friendly and safe neighborhoods No fence in the front yard, bicycle access through garage, street trees in courtesy strip 3
Total Points 16

*Earns project credits in Site and Water section

4-Star Single Family infill home in Kirkland (20 points minimum)

ESJ Action/Credit Implementation Points
6-3: Offer equity-focused trainings and workshops to staff, subcontractors, and other building partners GC has staff attend MBAKS and ANEW Rise Up workforce development trainings 5
6-9: Develop a project-specific ESJ plan clearly indicating equity objectives; identifying priority elements. Required ESJ plan includes measurable actions that could be implemented, including the ones on this chart 3
6-28: Build within 1/4 mile of a transit stop Infill project site located near bus line 3
6-29: Build on a lot that is within 1/2 mile of at least six essential services Infill project site located in walkable neighborhood* 3
6-36: Hire temporary employees or apprentices through Weld Works or ANEW GC hires Weld Seattle workers for 25% of the temporary work hours on the project during site clearing and demolition 5
6-40: Builder offers mentorship program to employees GC maintains a mentorship program for employee’s professional development, which requires leadership staff to attend equity-focused trainings 3
Total Points 22
Over Achievement Opportunity—6-8: Build an ADU or DADU +10 points 32

*Also earns points in Site and Water section

5-Star Single Family townhomes in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood (25 points minimum)

ESJ Action/Credit Implementation Points
6-9: Develop a project-specific ESJ plan clearly indicating equity objectives; identifying priority elements. Required ESJ plan includes measurable actions that could be implemented, including the ones on this chart 3
6-15: Hard-surface stepless grade changes at exterior to allow access to essential maintenance locations All units have a stepless path from the garbage can storage area to municipal pick-up area 1
6-28: Build within 1/4 mile of a bus stop Site located near a bus line 4
6-29: Build on a lot that is within 1/2 mile of at least six essential services Infill project site located in walkable neighborhood* 3
6-32: Design to promote and encourage pedestrian-friendly and safe neighborhoods No fence in the front yard, bicycle access through garage, street trees in courtesy strip 3
6-39: Offer vacant properties to WELD Seattle for use as temporary housing GC contracts with Weld Seattle to allow the site’s existing home for temporary housing prior to its deconstruction 8
6-44: Annually provide pro bono or reduced rate services to nonprofit or historically marginalized community organizations GC builds a ramp at MBAKS annual Rampathon event 5
Total Points 27

*Also earns points in Site and Water section

4-Star Multifamily mid-rise, mixed-use apartment in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood (30 points minimum)

ESJ Action/Credit Implementation Points
6-40: Engage Local Community groups to assess community needs to inform the project-specific ESJ plan Project team held outreach meetings with Beacon Hill residents and community leaders so they could collaborate on a design that could address known disparities in noise and outdoor air pollutants experienced in Beacon Hill 8
6-9: Develop a project-specific ESJ plan clearly indicating equity objectives; identifying priority elements. Required ESJ plan includes measurable actions that could be implemented, including the ones on this table and more from universal design credits 3
6-12: Site, design, and construct to counter known disparities identified through engagement with community stakeholders Based on community’s comments the project team designed the building to include Triple pane windows, HRV and HEPA filters in the air-tight building, and a pedestrian-friendly exterior design with additional trees.* 15
6-28: Build within 1/4 mile of a bus stop Site located near a bus line 4
6-29: Create mixed use building Building designed with retail and live/work units on ground floor with 4 stories of apartments above 10
6-10: Implement priority elements of project’s ESJ plan Implemented all identified priority ESJ objectives from the project’s ESJ plan 7
Total Points 47

*Also earns credits in Site and Water and Energy Efficiency sections

Want to dive deeper into the details on this section? Watch the Mastering Built Green: Equity and Social Justice Credits webinar:

Please note this was recorded prior to the ESJ section being renamed from Section 1 to Section 6. All credits mentioned correspond with Section 6 of the checklists.

Further Resources

2021 Single-Family/Townhome New Construction Handbook (starts on page 254)

2021 Multifamily Handbook (starts on page 187)

The Business Case for Diversity and Inclusion in the Construction Industry

An Antidote to the Great Resignation - Look To Your Culture and Values

Codifying Prejudice

Racial Inequities In Housing

NAACP: Guidelines for Equitable Community Involvement in Building & Development Projects and Policies

A Key Challenge for Minority-Owned Subcontractors? Misperceptions.

Building Mentorship Programs for People of Color

Master Builder Association of King and Snohomish programs that deliver ESJ credits:

MBAKS Workforce Development

MBAKS Classes and Education

MBAKS Community Stewardship

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