Three Multifamily Partners Lead the Way in Disaster Resilience Assessment and Planning

By Better Buildings Beat Team on Oct 09, 2020

Resilience – or disaster preparedness – has direct ties to energy efficiency and is an important part of any organization’s portfolio. Three Better Buildings Challenge multifamily partners are leading the way to assess risk and prepare their housing portfolios for extreme weather events. Jonathan Rose Companies, WinnCompanies, and Preservation of Affordable Housing are creating portfolio-wide disaster resilience assessment strategies and implementing measures to protect residents and property.

JRCo's Google Map of climate risks in NE United States

Jonathan Rose Companies

In 2018, Jonathan Rose Companies (JRCo) began assessing resilience strategies across its national portfolio of more than 80 properties spanning 18 states and various climatic zones. JRCo started with regional risk hazard assessments and worked its way down to the site level over time. Using Enterprise Community Partners’ Ready to Respond Toolkit for Multifamily Building Resilience as a guide, the JRCo team identified physical risks by consulting local and regional hazard mitigation or emergency plans typically found on a city’s or county’s public website. The team ranked JRCo’s highest priority risks across the entire portfolio and added them as layers in a Google Maps tool. This allowed JRCo to see the geographical concentration of hazards within each region. The top three hazards identified were flooding, winter storms, and extreme heat. JRCo also aligned its risk analysis strategy with the GRESB Resilience Module, which categorizes risk into three types: physical, transitional, and social.

For individual properties, JRCo created an internal risk report synthesizing interviews with property managers and facilities staff, the regional risk map, and the outputs from the Ready to Respond Toolkit. To learn more about the assessment tools and process, check out the company’s Implementation Model on Portfolio-wide Resilience Assessments for Affordable Housing.

JRCo is now planning recommended resilience measures at its Metro Green Apartments property in Stamford, Connecticut. Measures under consideration include installing cement barriers to block off the mechanical room from flooding, installing backwater valves, maintaining backup power to critical systems, and providing residents access to potable water.

JRCo's Metro Green Apartments in Stamford, Connecticut


Boston-based WinnCompanies, with a multifamily portfolio across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, is integrating resilience measures into new construction projects and evaluating ways it can make existing properties more resilient when disasters strike. Its WinnResponse Emergency Action Plan, coupled with targeted Resilience Assessments in key areas, ensure its properties and communities are better prepared for a variety of emergency events.

On the East Boston waterfront, Winn is developing 52 new mixed-income units in two buildings in accordance with Boston’s Green Building and Climate Resiliency Zoning Code (Article 37), which includes a Climate Preparedness Checklist. Winn’s new Harbor125 condominiums and Residences at Harborwalk apartments were raised over three feet, well above projected design flood elevations based on the City’s 2050 sea level rise projections. Additional resilience measures include both permanent and deployable flood barriers, high-efficiency HVAC systems, ENERGY STAR® windows, and a solar-ready design. The project will achieve LEED for Homes v4 Gold certification and ENERGY STAR® Homes certification.

Winn will also partner with the Boston Housing Authority to transform the 80-year-old, 1,000+ unit Mary Ellen McCormack public housing community on South Boston’s waterfront into a new mixed-use, mixed-income site with more than 3,000 units across several buildings. While still early in the master planning process, key resilience features will include raising the overall elevation of a portion of the site above base flood elevation and investing in high-performance building envelopes and Passive House techniques that can maintain comfortable indoor space temperatures for several days without power. Finally, the project team is evaluating a microgrid for the site, with support from Clean Energy Group, in order to integrate clean energy and battery storage systems into the building design and provide greater resilience and grid reliability for the community.

WinnCompanies’ Mary Ellen McCormack redevelopment sketch

Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH)

For POAH, a 2020 Better Buildings Challenge Goal Achiever, evaluating resilience across its 84-property portfolio is part of its current five-year strategic plan. POAH has started with building surveys of its properties to examine power failures and generators. The survey includes a set of questions to determine what electric loads the existing generators cover, if they are the correct size and if additional generators are needed in the event of power shutdowns. The results help POAH determine where to add generators, to ensure that key outlets in community spaces and offices are powered so that they can do critical tasks like charge cell phones and refrigerate medications, and that the property offices have power to communicate during emergencies. All POAH projects include an area of refuge, which is typically the community room and office suite. In addition to outlets, these spaces have independent HVAC systems so residents have a place to go during power outages.

POAH also has one property under construction and five in the design phase being built to Passive House standards, in part due to the resilience benefits that can result. Passive House designs integrate high-performance windows and doors with airtight enclosures while minimizing thermal bridging. Combined with a high-efficient heat pump heating and cooling system, the Passive House standard allows almost no heat or cold to seep in or out while maintaining fresh and even-temperature indoor air quality. These Passive House features allow residents to shelter in place if utilities are cut during periods of extreme heat or cold. Many Passive House projects also call for solar PV systems to meet source energy requirements; POAH is evaluating solar + storage systems for its projects to add another layer of resilience.

Explore the Better Buildings Solution Center to learn more about the relationship between energy efficiency and resilience and to learn more about our Multifamily Sector partners.