The STATE of PH in Multifamily

I was recently asked by a high-performance product sales rep whether I can forecast the near future for acceptance and adoption of the Passive House (PH) standard in our state and local jurisdictions for the affordable housing sector of development.  This is a big question in our industry and I only wish I held the crystal ball.  To put my response succinctly – I do not know, but I am hopeful.  With this stated, one can first look back to see where we were, say 10 years ago when the energy codes were toothless, what we’ve worked through (deep economic recession), and witness at the national scale for PH in larger buildings.


Washington Square Town Homes project: insulated stem walls on one of the walk-up buildings

This past September, I had the pleasure to attend the annual PHIUS conference in Philadelphia.  These conferences serve as very useful yearly status checks on how the PH movement is taking hold in North America.  One of the breakout sessions featured a panel of representatives who are or have been directly involved with multifamily development, the implementation of housing finance policy or have spearheaded PH adoption in their respective local region. The panel featured Stan Salwocki of PHFA (Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency), Mike Harsma of SDHDA (South Dakota Housing Development Authority), Chris Mahase of NYCHPD (New York City Housing Preservation & Development), and Linda Metropulos of Action Housing, Inc. of Pittsburgh.  The panel offered a great volume of firsthand accounts and insight on the implementation of PH as well as the follow through of project teams working to bring them to market.


We would be remiss not to mention Tim McDonald (Onion Flats), Laura Nettleton (Thoughtful Balance) and Katrin Klingenberg (PHIUS) for their heavy-lifting in advocating for PHFA’s inclusion of scoring incentives in their 2015 LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credit) Qualified Allocation Plan. As Stan Salwocki reported, in 2015, of 40 awarded projects, 7 of those targeted PH prioritization.  And to follow that, for the 2016 round, of 27 awarded projects, 10 of those targeted PH.  These ratios are astounding to us for the fact of how competitive the state-issued LIHTC program is, not to mention, how valued the additional 10 of 140 scoring points are to competing developers.  All said, between these two LIHTC offerings, 850 new dwelling units designed to the Passive House standard will be available to low-income residents.

Peabody Architects is among one of the development teams in delivering one of the 2015 PHFA LIHTC projects.  Through the Washington Square Town Homes (WSTH) project, PIRHL Developers and Contractors (Cleveland, OH) will deliver 54 affordable apartments to downtown Chambersburg, PA.  The project is now under construction after long and deliberate design development and bidding phases.  From our perspective, having designed and administered other Passive House projects of varying size and complexity, the project team has steadily become cognizant of the added responsibility to construct integrated and high-performing building.  Getting to this stage even, is evidence that what once seemed to be a very high hurdle for production development, now really appears to be achievable.

WSTH: 12 townhouses go vertical (photo credits: Weber Architecture)

New York City

As Mr. Mahase reported, New York City has a tangible impetus for PH in their projects.  We’ve all come to know that NYC has a unique model for leading in innovation and development.  Currently, their policies are in the “feasibility and assessment” phase, much like PA.  Sustainability by means of high performance buildings is a political issue for their mayor, framed by the 80 by 50 sustainability goal. The SustaiNYC program identifies Passive House by name as a tool to meet their long term energy goals. This is seen within NYCHPD’s recent affordable multifamily RFP.  With many PH projects now in the pipeline and with demonstrated success (proven energy savings), city officials look forward to moving into the “incentives” phase where they plan to offset any premiums attributed to constructing better buildings.

Washington, DC

It is clear that DC government sees Net Zero Building development much as NYC does.  Both DDOE’s Clean Energy DC report and the Sustainable DC Plan are evidence of the intention to lead by example.

Perhaps just as exciting, is that the District’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has begun to incentivize net zero buildings and Passive House. Through both the PADD and LIHTC programs there are bonus points available to development teams using energy and performance-based standards on their scorecards.



excerpt from DHCD’s Green Building Overview

While 2032 seems like a long way off, let’s consider what this is saying.  By this, it appears that the development and construction community should be warned to proactively prepare for significantly more stringent building codes coming down the pike.  Considering the huge amount of underutilized, outdated, and unsafe buildings that exist in DC, this will be a large scale undertaking and we don’t think labeling it as a revolution is hyperbole at this point.

WUFI Passive energy modeling - beauty in the eye of the beholder

WUFI Passive energy modeling – beauty in the eye of the beholder

We look forward to continued updates on the progress of our projects and the STATE of PH in the world of multifamily.