Q&A with Senior Design Manager Jess Blanch

CHH Staffer Jess Blanch. Photo courtesy of Harry Connolly.

1. Congratulations on your recent promotion to Senior Design Manager. As a Rose Fellow at CHH, you’ve been instrumental in guiding our internal environmental work – greening our building portfolio. What does that work entail and how do you foresee it continuing under this new role?

Thank you! I am thrilled to continue my work with the team here at Capitol Hill Housing. Greening CHH’s portfolio includes not only ensuring our new buildings are designed to be as sustainable as they can be, but also finding opportunities to improve the energy and water efficiency in our existing properties which span building types, time periods, and sizes. The first step is called benchmarking–understanding how well our buildings perform, and then analyzing that performance to identify places where we could upgrade systems to reduce energy and water use. We have been working with a number of partners to do this work, and many of their recommendations are being wrapped into building renovations that will be happening over the next few years. These retrofits–things like toilets that use less water, low-energy LED light fixtures, or more efficient heating systems–will ultimately make our residents’ homes more comfortable and less expensive to operate with lower utility bills for both residents and CHH.

Beyond efficient buildings, we are also focusing on healthy materials. We are proud to partner with the Healthy Building Network’s HomeFree Initiative, which helps affordable housing organizations improve resident health outcomes by using less toxic products in our buildings. The Liberty Bank Building is the Pacific Northwest Demonstration Project for HomeFree, and we’re taking what we’ve learned from that project to develop design and operations standards that will reduce staff and resident exposure to toxic products. This work is being supported by the Washington State Department of Ecology and includes resident education and outreach. 

2. Your background is in architecture – what drives your passion for working in affordable housing?

For me, pursuing a career in architecture has always gone hand in hand with a commitment to helping others. The built environment plays a huge role in social, economic, and environmental justice, diversity, and equity. I strongly believe not only that housing is a human right, but that everyone deserves an affordable, well-designed, sustainable, and healthy home. Working in affordable housing development means I can affect decisions earlier in the process and ensure these priorities are baked into our work from the start.

3. In addition to driving environmental goals at CHH, you will be extensively involved in moving our pipeline of building projects forward. What there are you most excited about? 

I am really excited about some new developments I led during my Rose Fellowship and will continue to contribute to in the future: the White Center Community Hub and Jazz House. Both projects are collaborations with community organizations to build affordable housing co-located with social services and education opportunities in neighborhoods with high risk of displacement as our region continues to grow.  For the Hub we are partnering with Southwest Youth & Family Services, the White Center Community Development Association and King County to build affordable homes as well as social and community services in White Center. Jazz House is a partnership with local nonprofit Seattle JazzED, which will create an iconic new home for JazzED’s music education program for kids along with affordable homes in Rainier Valley.