The Brown Family House: A Focus on Sustainability and Affordability

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The Harold and Ronald Brown Family House will embody the sustainability values of 2Life Communities, a non-profit organization that develops affordable housing for seniors in the Greater Boston area to ensure that they can age affordably and live well. 2Life creates opportunities for older adults of all backgrounds to age in community, where the wisdom they have accumulated over a lifetime is celebrated.  

Image courtesy of Prellwitz Chilinski Associates (PCA).

In its current and future projects, the organization is committed to implementing green practices. As Amy Schectman, President and CEO, said, “Building long-term viable communities contains an imperative to incorporate both economic and environmental sustainability.” This approach helps to protect the planet and to accrue cost savings that will free up additional resources to reinvest in providing future housing and supportive services. 2Life Communities has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy for becoming the first affordable housing multifamily partner in their Better Buildings Challenge to reach its Challenge goal for its energy-saving practices, which reduced source energy consumption by 24%. The non-profit has since committed to an additional 10% reduction over the next five years. 

In its latest project – the Harold and Ronald Brown Family House –located at 370 Harvard Street in the heart of Coolidge Corner, 2Life Communities partnered with Congregation Kehillath Israel (KI) to simultaneously address the issues of social isolation and housing affordability in Brookline through the creation of 62 affordable apartments of for older adults, including vibrant common areas and approximately 1,000 square feet of community-oriented retail. KI is leasing space on its Harvard Street campus for 2Life to develop the Brown Family House.

Len Fishman, Director of UMass-Gerontology, observed, “There is no better neighborhood in the United States for an older adult to live in [than Coolidge Corner].” With its coffee shops, boutiques, independent bookstore, theater, and more, this community-oriented and pedestrian-friendly area is an ideal location for seniors living at the Brown Family House to lead a dynamic, meaningful lifestyle.

Image courtesy of Prellwitz Chilinski Associates (PCA).

As the town is becoming increasingly unaffordable, there is a documented need for senior housing. From 2000 to 2010, poverty for individuals over 75 increased from 8.3% to 17.1%, and in 2010, over 40% of Brookline’s elderly residents earned less than 300% of the poverty rate (Brookline FY 2016-2020 Needs Assessment; Brookline Community Foundation). The Brown Family House is a step in the right direction to address the need in the Town for affordable senior housing by providing 62 new apartments that will be affordable to seniors at a range of incomes. 

It takes many sources of financing to develop affordable housing, over 10 for the Brown Family House. The project was awarded $3 million in funding from the Town of Brookline, over $18 million in state, federal, and LIHTC funding and approximately $250,000 in rebates from MassSave and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The project also raised $2.6 million through a capital campaign.

The Brown Family House is designed with an open ground floor plan and large windows, making its walls feel permeable and welcoming to the community. Sidewalk improvements and newly-developed green spaces, including a public pocket park, will increase walkability, accomplishing the long-held goal of knitting Coolidge Corner’s retail centers to those of JFK Crossing.

Image courtesy of Prellwitz Chilinski Associates (PCA).

The Brown Family House will have a number of sustainability features. The project is on track to achieve the Enterprise Green Communities certification, a green building framework for the affordable housing sector. The community will be “car free,” with its transit-rich location offering easy access to public transport, bike racks on site, one parking space set-aside for car sharing, and a new drop-off/pick-up area improving access to transit for mobility-challenged residents. To help filter stormwater and promote healthy drainage, permeable pavers will be installed along Harvard Street and in the courtyard, and a rain garden will be created along William Street. The apartment interiors will have LED light fixtures, EnergyStar appliances and low-flow plumbing fixtures with unit-level metering for ongoing tracking. The building will also feature a solar hot water system, a green roof over the main entrance that will reduce the heat island effect, and a tight building envelope with a high-quality air barrier and a highly efficient heating and cooling system that will reduce heating and cooling needs and operating costs. Designing the heating and cooling system to minimize the amount of equipment and maintenance required was a challenge, but with the help of a sustainability consultant, New Ecology, Inc., and an MEP engineer, WSP Inc., a hybrid version with four mini central systems was designed. Running on electricity, this system offers flexibility to convert to more renewable resources in the future. 

To cost-effectively implement green practices in property development, connecting with a sustainability consultant is highly beneficial, according to 2Life Communities. With guidance from 2Life’s full-time Sustainability Director and consultants at New Ecology, Inc., the organization connected with rebate programs through Mass CEC and Mass Save, which significantly reduced up-front costs and shortened the payback period. Not only do consultant help to connect with such programs to lower costs, they also help to remain up-to-date in a fast-changing industry and to make decisions that meet intended goals for capital and operating budgets. Focusing on the end users – their goals, unique needs, and capacity – is also crucial, as noted by 2Life Communities. Focusing on senior residents as its end users, the organization counts every decision, from simple-to-use thermostat interfaces to windows wired with automatic air conditioning shut-off switches that activate when windows are left open. 

It is evident that the Brown Family House is truly focused on serving seniors and with that comes a laser focus on sustainability and affordability. Currently under construction, it is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020. 


Written by Maryana Dumalska, Sustainability Intern at Boyer Sudduth Environmental Consultants, and a senior in the Earth & Environmental Sciences Department at Boston College 

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