The U.S. House of Representatives' Financial Services Committee marked Earth Day last week by giving a green thumbs-up to legislation that seeks to make homes and other buildings more energy-efficient and affordable by providing sustainability incentives to lenders and financial institutions. 

The bipartisan GREEN Act (Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods) now moves to the full House for a vote. This latest version of H.R. 2336, authored by Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Judy Biggert, incorporates consensus changes to earlier legislation that passed in the full House in 2008 as part of the Comprehensive Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act, as well as in 2009 as part of the American Clean Energy & Security Act (ACES). 

The proposed legislation, which enjoys broad support from builders, developers, architects, real estate agents, businesses, and environmental groups, contains several provisions prompting the federal government to lead by example. It requires HUD to insure loans made by qualified lenders to finance the acquisition of renewable energy systems for use at residential properties. It also directs HUD to establish a four-year, 50,000-unit pilot program as a means of demonstrating to lenders that funding projects that adhere to higher energy-efficiency standards can be cost-effective. 

In addition, the GREEN Act encourages the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to insure at least 50,000 energy-efficient mortgages by Dec. 31, 2012--the thought being that as FHA begins seeking these types of mortgages, a market will emerge among home builders, homeowners, and lenders seeking to acquire federal insurance on mortgage products.

If passed, H.R. 2336 will also award residential block grants for energy-efficient retrofits; channel resources through community groups to extend the availability of energy-efficient products for existing homes; and create partnerships to promote sustainable site planning, building orientation, and landscape architecture.

“The GREEN Act will forge a new path for achieving energy and cost savings in our nation’s buildings, homes, and offices,” said Biggert, who co-chairs the Congressional High-Performance Building Caucus. “It utilizes creative financing mechanisms, demonstrations, and incentives to promote the use of the latest in sustainable building designs and technologies. At the same time, it places a premium on energy-efficient construction and upgrades that will revitalize investment in the green jobs of tomorrow.”

How many green jobs? A report issued by the American Institute of Architects suggests that the legislation could create or save an estimated 140,000 building design and construction jobs each year.

“As the United States struggles with a sagging housing market and rising energy prices, now is the time to encourage investments that promote energy independence, grow the economy, and save American homeowners money,” said AIA President George H. Miller. “By including incentives for energy efficiency into lending and housing programs, the GREEN Act is the sort of innovative and common-sense approach we need to spark our economy while saving energy.”

Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor for BUILDER.