I’ve always felt good about my work as an environmental geologist, but nothing has moved me as much as attending the CHW Dreambuilders event last week. I’ve worked on affordable housing projects in the past and have been involved in environmental assessment and developing and implementing plans for cleaning up contamination to prepare a property for redevelopment. But I had never before been able to hear from the people whom these projects benefit. The Dreambuilders Gala, held at Humphreys By The Bay, was a night of smiles and tears of joy, where we were able to hear the stories of struggling families who were provided with homes; children who were able to have a safe place to sleep and play; a teenage girl who had her own room for the first time. The story that affected me the most was about Tony, a grandfather who had struggled with mental health issues and now has a home where his grandchildren can visit him. He was positive and joyful as he spoke of how his neighbors all knew his grandkids!
Community HousingWorks is a nonprofit organization that develops and operates affordable housing communities throughout California. Not only does the organization provide housing to family, seniors, and people with disabilities, they provide additional services to help residents thrive. Financial planning programs, after-school and summer study programs, and healthy living programs are offered to residents, and scholarships are available to youth and adults for postsecondary education.
SCS has been involved with many of the Community HousingWorks developments throughout San Diego County, including family housing projects such as Ulric Street Apartments and the currently under-development Cortez Hill Apartments; North Park Seniors Apartments; and Paseo Artists Village, providing housing for artists as well as a resident art gallery and studio.
I feel so proud to work for a company that is involved in this type of work; not only are we making the land healthy and safer for residents, we are contributing to changing the lives of fellow community members and generations to come!
You can help too!
Jennifer Morton is a licensed professional geologist working at SCS Engineers. Her work with environmental engineers leads to the development of remediation systems used to clean up soil and groundwater and develop site mitigation plans that help keep communities safe from contamination. And like many SCSers, she has a passion for helping others.
The construction cranes dotting suburban and urban areas indicate many cities’ new residential, office, and commercial building developments. Mixed-use development continues rising in popularity; the pandemic accelerated a swing already in motion. But there are other factors at play here, and one may surprise you. Today, our blog discusses these two factors and how brownfield redevelopment can play a role in addressing both.
According to Architecture 2030, a non-profit, non-partisan organization established to transform the building sector away from being a major emitter of greenhouse gases, there is work to do. As with almost all industry segments, tracking and reducing their carbon footprint is considered an essential element of doing business. It’s important to Americans and shareholders.
Brownfield redevelopment presents adaptive reuse of existing buildings and properties and is a sustainable form of construction. Completing the due diligence and environmental studies associated with redevelopment shows brownfields can provide cost benefits from a development perspective and in excellent locations with existing infrastructure. The conversion of existing land or buildings, as opposed to new-build construction, is far more environmentally sustainable.
An EPA 2020 study examines and reports the environmental benefits that continue accruing when brownfield sites are redevelopment. The study finds that accomodating housing and job growth decreases the need for more roads and reduces emissions from commuting.
As population density increases, real estate prices continue to rise, and less land is available, mixed-use development is an economical choice for developers. It is also one of the best-case scenarios for end-users because it prioritizes practicality and sustainability. Many potential sites exist in desirable locations or emerging areas. They should be available below market value and may have been on the market for a long time. The development of Comm-22 is a great example of a mixed-use community. Businesses find brownfields attractive options because they are closer to their customers – good for business and the environment.
Two: Grant Programs and Offsetting Expenses
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has grant programs that can pay for the assessment and cleanup of brownfields, but these programs are only available to governmental and non-profit organizations. However, a private entity may be able to team with these eligible parties. The bipartisan Congressional action has delivered the single-largest investment in U.S. brownfields infrastructure. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests more than $1.5 billion through EPA’s highly successful Brownfields Program.
In addition, grants are available from some state agencies and the private sector through EPA regional programs – these are most often found within the transportation sector. Your environmental engineer or consultant can help you find funding; the firms with comprehensive environmental services keep watch as substantial federal infrastructure funding trickles down to the states in 2022 and next year. Note that each grant program will have its eligibility criteria, but many of these are designated for mixed-use developments supporting
Obtaining a grant or loan with the help of a qualified environmental consultant or an environmental attorney can be the difference in acquiring, cleaning up, and redeveloping a property. The grants don’t typically cover all the costs associated with the necessary cleanups, but they can cover most of these costs.
A new property owner can obtain an environmental insurance policy to cover cleanup requirements, third-party claims for bodily injury and property damage, and associated legal expenses resulting from pollution or contamination. These insurance policies are available with various term lengths and deductible amounts to satisfy the concerns of lenders or equity investors.
Other solutions include “insurance archaeology” to find old insurance policies that may have coverage for “pollution conditions.”
Comprehensive Environmental Support Keeps Redevelopment on Track
Mixed-use development provides a healthy, safe place to work, play, and live along with job creation. The most important risk management strategy is to keep the project on schedule. Your environmental engineer and consultant have a thorough understanding of the environmental issues on the site and how those issues can impact your redevelopment plans and bottom line. It is critical to have environmental and legal support experienced in identifying, anticipating, and managing risks on brownfields.
SCS evaluates brownfields by performing a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) first to study historic site information and previous uses. SCS will perform a Phase II study if the Phase I ESA identifies potential issues (known as Recognized Environmental Conditions). Phase II includes collecting and analyzing samples (i.e., soil, soil vapor, and groundwater) to assess whether environmental impacts are present. If enough sampling is completed, the extent of the impacts can be estimated.
SCS Engineers has a long and successful track record with brownfields projects. Our clients appreciate the security of having comprehensive and experienced professionals who lower their risk keeping projects on schedule, safely remediating in-situ that lowers greenhouse gas emissions and can provide cost savings.
With proper planning and the help of a qualified environmental consultant, the mitigation or remediation of impacts can be incorporated into the acquisition and development processes and result in a vibrant, profitable project that is protective of human health and the environment.
About the Author: Luke Montague is a Vice President of SCS Engineers and a Project Director. He is a Professional Geologist and licensed contractor with two decades of experience in environmental consulting, general contracting, commercial and residential development, and property and asset management. He has performed and reviewed hundreds of Phase I environmental site assessments (ESAs), and has completed subsurface investigations, human health risk assessments, removal action work plans, site remediation activities, geotechnical investigations, asbestos and lead-based paint surveys, and asbestos air monitoring.
With the new available housing supply critical in San Diego and across the country during the current housing crisis, affordable housing options for low-income people in need are more important than ever. Below are several examples of recent Brownfields projects that have been or are under development by affordable housing developers to benefit the critical needs of the developmentally disabled and seniors.
Mercy Housing, Villa de la Vida – Mercy Housing Corporation (MHC) redeveloped a creek-front Poway site with multiple former leaking underground storage tanks (USTs) into Villa de Vida, a home for adults with developmental disabilities. The site had been historically used as a San Diego County Department of Public Works Road Station with fueling stations operating from 1942 to 1998 and had several leaking USTs, which had impacted the soil and groundwater with gasoline. In addition, operations at former structures on the site had caused elevated lead concentrations in shallow soil from lead-based paint and asbestos in materials used for building construction. The UST case was closed in 2004 but left behind petroleum hydrocarbon impacts in both soil and groundwater. Working under the regulatory oversight of the County of San Diego Department of Environmental Health, MHC hired SCS Engineers to perform Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessments. SCS prepared and implemented a Soil Management Plan (SMP) to ensure proper management and removal of lead- and petroleum hydrocarbon-bearing soil to ensure the safety of future residents and the environment in the development area, including the adjacent Poway Creek.
Community Housing Works, North Park Seniors – The North Park Seniors Project is San Diego’s first LGBT senior housing project. The housing was built in an area historically developed as early as 1921 with previous commercial and residential land uses. Due to the historical land uses at the site, which included a former blacksmith and horse stables circa 1921, elevated concentrations of lead were present in the soil that exceeded residential screening levels. To protect human health for future residents and workers and save costs on soil disposal at a landfill, SCS proposed a unique plan. In collaboration with Community HousingWorks, the County of San Diego Department of Environmental Health, and the project design team, lead-bearing soil could be reused or safely buried beneath the project during grading activities. The plan also greatly reduced the amount of truck traffic and greenhouse gas emissions during site preparation.
RD Brown Company and EAH Housing – Imperial Seniors – A former gasoline service station in the City of Imperial is being redeveloped into an assisted senior living facility. The project has gasoline impacted soil, groundwater, and currently has an open unauthorized release case overseen by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The Water Board allows the proposed development to move forward while the case is still open, provided that a vapor barrier is installed beneath the proposed building and groundwater remediation and monitoring continue until gas/benzene levels in groundwater meet acceptable levels. Construction is on schedule to start in 2022.
East Alton Defense Area Rehabilitation Project Receives Illinois Governor’s Affordable Housing Champion Award. SCS Engineers provides environmental services that help move redevelopment project forward. – Congratulations RISE!
Mark Stroker, Director of Real Estate Development, RISE St. Louis, informed the SCS Engineers team about the honor, saying he felt “a great deal of pride and appreciation that Emerald Ridge was selected by IHDA [Illinois Housing Development Authority] as the Champion’s Award winner for excellence in affordable housing development for 2016.”
Mr. Stroker went on to tell the SCS team that, “It is an extraordinary honor and represents a long and collaborative effort… This was a tough project and wouldn’t have been possible without all of your help.” He attended the Illinois Governor’s Conference in late March 2016, where he accepted the award and discussed the project with conference attendees.
In his notification to Mr. Stroker about the award, Benjamin Fenton, IHDA’s Housing Coordination Services Manager, explained that three nominees are chosen for this award every year for distinguished developments, initiatives, or programs in affordable housing. The nominees stand out for their commitment to serving the Annual Comprehensive Housing Plan focus areas and one or more of the State’s Priority Populations, and for having positive impacts on the community in which they are located.
Before it was redeveloped, The Emerald Ridge Development was known as the “Defense Area,” and it consisted of 18 one- and two-story multi-family buildings containing approximately 80 apartments. The Defense Area was built by the Federal government as temporary housing in the early 1940’s to accommodate workers at the nearby Olin ammunition plant during the war effort. After the war, these barracks-style buildings were not dismantled as originally planned but were sold off to private owners. Over the years, they were re-sold multiple times, and the condition of most of the buildings became more and more deteriorated, in addition to being constructed with asbestos-containing materials and lead-based paints.
Residents were temporarily relocated, and the old buildings were demolished and replaced with 46 newly constructed, high-efficiency single-family homes. The residents who lived in the area when the redevelopment project commenced were given the opportunity to rent homes in the new development, and some accepted. The rechristened Emerald Ridge Development is located in the Village of East Alton, Illinois, and the new single-family homes are affordable to families earning 60% of the Area Median Income, which includes nearly two-thirds of the residents of East Alton.
Services that SCS Engineers provided at the site included lead and asbestos abatement sampling and specifications, asbestos abatement management, subsurface investigation for a Phase II ESA, NESHAP demolition inspections, and two Phase I ESAs to assess the property for potential environmental impairments, to satisfy IHDA requirements, and to satisfy the CERCLA requirements to qualify for landowner liability protection.
Stephanie Hill, SCS Project Director, said: “I am honored to be part of the RISE team that brought so much value to the community.” Ms. Hill offered special thanks to Randy Homburg, SCS Geologist and Project Manager, for his work on this redevelopment project, and to the other SCS team members who performed the environmental site assessments.