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In 2014, a group of stakeholders gathered in Harrisburg, PA to propose a simple but novel idea to transform affordable housing to be high performing, energy saving, and climate resilient across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The group understood the critical role that buildings play in accelerating, mitigating, and adapting to climate change, as well as the need for more affordable housing to shelter and secure those experiencing or on the brink of homelessness.

Noticing that the solutions to the existential threat of climate change can be slow-moving and politicized, the group went directly to an institution that could make a transformational impact: the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). They proposed a policy to have all of PHFA’s affordable housing in Pennsylvania be designed and constructed to a Net-Zero-Energy-Capable standard by 2030. PHFA was already looking to “raise the bar” on energy efficiency as developers had been surpassing their standards for years. PHFA welcomed the challenge and within four months put the project in motion.

In 2015, PHFA introduced language into their 2015 Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) to incentivize developers pursuing 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) funding to design/construct their projects to meet the rigorous Passive House Standard. Following their lead, a growing number of other housing finance agencies have followed suit, using the QAP process to effectively encourage and incentivize high performance, low carbon buildings.

In an effort to share best practices around this initiative, the New Gravity Housing Conference was launched in 2017 by Green Building United and a dedicated team of volunteers. Each year since, affordable housing developers, lenders, architects, designers, and other stakeholders have gathered to discuss how to design and build high-performance, net-zero, passive, multi-family housing that can be achieved affordably using city and statewide policies and initiatives.

But what is the “New Gravity”?

New Gravity is not just about employing a set of design parameters, but also orienting us around the central why of projects. This shared “why” invites professionals across disciplines to speak the same language.

Our buildings and building codes must follow the laws of gravity; similarly, we should be designing for resilience and low-impact, preparing buildings to withstand the current and future changes to our climate. In other words, climate change is our “New Gravity” because the effects are felt by all and cannot be ignored.

We also recognize current and historical racial and socio-economic injustices have left individuals vulnerable to environmental health hazards. Frontline communities are bearing the heaviest burden of climate impacts, and from a problem they did not create. It is essential for building professionals to recognize this and design for equity and justice.

This year’s event

This year, Green Building United is partnering with Illinois Green Alliance to host the fourth annual New Gravity Housing Conference virtually, demonstrating the opportunity to expand this work across the United States and beyond.

Join us August 5th – 7th to hear from our exceptional keynote speakers, Edward Mazria of Architecture 2030, and Angela Hurlock of the Chicago Housing Authority, and walk away with knowledge shared at expert-led sessions and workshops, while mixing in some fun with conference organizers and fellow attendees.

For the last several years, one idea remains constant at this annual event – that increased education and advocacy for climate-resilient, affordable housing is vital. We need more building experts to push the industry. We hope you’ll not only join us for this this content-rich and socially engaging three day conference, but also help spread the word! Invite your coworkers, peers, and friends to take part! Transformative change can only happen when we’re working together.

We hope to see you there!

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