Several months ago, I wrote a lengthy post suggesting ways to use the mortgage crisis as an opportunity to help people facing foreclosure by helping them build and tap green equity in their homes. I also pointed out how to green housing policy by using tools like location efficient mortgages to reshape urban/suburban residential and commute patterns.
I'm excited to read that the Obama administration is holding a summit today to re-examine federal housing policy. Like the author of this Grist article that points out how housing policy can incorporate green climate/energy elements, I'm hopeful that the newly-launched Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities (headed by my new heroine, Shelley Poticha) can start to undo our unwieldy, car-dependent way of living and working. It really will take the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, and the Housing and Urban Development agencies working together to achieve this. Consider residential rehab the flip side of the climate/energy bill we never saw emerge from the Senate this Congressional session. Also consider the 70+ years of highway-centric city and regional planning we've had that needs to be reworked.
As someone who lives in Los Angeles, city that's the poster child for car-culture obsessed fossil-fuel dependency run amok, I think it's notable that we Californians voted to RAISE TAXES to fund high speed rail that would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. Even we see the need for a new vision of working and living.
A small, practical step that builds on what's been done before would be to have Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, two of the biggest federal loan guarantors, prioritize location-efficient mortgages in the products they underwrite. A bigger challenge will be to get big banks on board. Convince them this is a new market, and the greedy pigs profit-seeking banks'll probably jump at the opportunity to revitalize the moribund real estate market.
Let's wean ourselves off foreign oil. And as the BP Gulf Oil spill disaster has shown us, domestic oil isn't the silver bullet solving our oil dependency problems either. Wouldn't you rather be able to take a high-speed train or light rail to work, instead of spending 2 or more hours a day in a car stuck in traffic (time out of your life you'll never get back to play with your kids or just relax)?
Greening our housing policy may just be the way to do it.
UPDATED TO ADD on August 20, 2010:
I'm loving the Grist folks for keeping their eye on this issue too--here's a post about energy efficient mortgages and a bill Senator Michael Bennet says he'll introduce after the August recess. Bennet is up for re-election, so let's make sure he's around to lead the effort to get the Sensible Accounting to Value Energy Act (pdf) passed. From the Grist post:
"Energy-efficient mortgages" have been available for years, running on the premise that borrowers who spend less on utility bills have more money available for mortgage payments. But they've been an underused niche product that few buyers or even lenders know about. The SAVE Act would take the concept and apply it to all government-sponsored mortgage enterprises, such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration. Those three entities currently guarantee more than 90 percent of new loans, so the bill would have a profound effect on ramping up home efficiency.
"The big news is that this would become a part of every federally backed mortgage," said Cliff Majersik of the Institute for Market Transformation, an efficiency advocacy group that helped draft the bill.
Energy efficient homes would cost less to run, and thus affect how big or small a mortgage a borrower would need. Both energy efficient mortgages and location efficient mortgages (that value proximity to public transit), are tools for reshaping society and could really change how we live and work in positive, and sweeping, ways. Pay less for an environmentally-friendly house that has better transit options for getting around your community? Sounds great to me.