Intersectional Environmentalism, COVID-19 and Multi-Family

Equitable health and safety response is dominating the multi-family market


How do we adjust to living, learning and working from home in the “new normal?” How do we address health, safety, equity and well-being concerns during times of social distancing? I have spent the past five months working with global experts to learn the answers to these questions. In a 2016 article for Green Home Builder Magazine, I discussed the WELL Building Standard™, administered by the International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI), whose mission is to improve human health and well-being through the built environment.

WELL has grown in the past four years, with over 610 million square feet of registered project area, over 4,300 projects engaged with WELL Certification across 62 countries and more than 12,000 registered WELL APs in more than 90 countries. WELL is the leading tool for advancing health and well-being in buildings globally.

In March 2020, as IWBI was voting WELL v2 out of pilot, the country shut down. IWBI put WELL v2 on hold and created the Places Matter initiative. A “Task Force on COVID-19 and Other Respiratory Infections” was created and chaired by 20+ renowned experts from around the world and populated by 600+ global thought leaders and authorities from across public health, medicine, design, real estate, government and academia. The Task Force informed new guidelines for prevention and preparedness, resilience and recovery and enhancements to the WELL v2 Standard.

Simultaneously, people spent more time at home to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Developers realized health and wellness of dwelling spaces needed to be a top priority to ensure residents feel safe. Multi-family developers have been looking to IWBI’s newly released WELL Health-Safety Rating (HSR) for Facility Operations and Management and WELL Certification for projects and portfolios to help occupants feel safe, support leasing offices in safely renting units, and to help employees feel safe.

Developers realized health and wellness of dwelling spaces needed to be a top priority to ensure residents feel safe.

The WELL HSR provides developers an opportunity to make a commitment to health and wellness with immediacy and efficiency while providing a third party verification they can use to message safety to occupants and employees much quicker than a WELL Certification. WELL Certification provides a great opportunity to confirm performance verified strategies scientifically proven to increase health and wellness through third party verification.

Since the onset of COVID-19, IWBI has been averaging nearly 1 million square feet of project registrations per day across their suite of product offerings. While IWBI has continuously seen market engagement in WELL grow across all sectors, engagement in multi-family residential is one of their fastest growing markets. One of our clients, Kilroy Realty Corporation, a publicly traded real estate investment trust (REIT) who develops mixed-use, office, multi-family, retail, life sciences and more, has been busy working on WELL certifications and HSR for multi-family projects. Kilroy is already working on the re-certification of their Hollywood Proper Residences, a 200-unit luxury high-rise at Columbia Square in the heart of Hollywood, Calif. that was the world’s first rental apartment building to earn a WELL Certification.

NAVA Real Estate Development’s Lakehouse condominium developed in Denver was recognized as Colorado’s first WELL pre-certified multi-family project and the comprehensive wellness infrastructure improvements only increased the construction budget by less than 1%. NAVA’s Co-Founder & President Brian Levitt said, “Where health and wellness were once nice-to-have features in a community, they will quickly become the standard, especially after the events of this year.”

Which leads us to another point of interest in my 2016 article. WELL Certification and the HSR have 35% market and sector discounts for non-profit & charitable organizations, schools, government/municipalities, low-income/ affordable housing and more. As people are becoming cognizant that we are only as safe and healthy as the least taken care of in our communities, intersectional environmentalism becomes more important than ever.

Affordable housing plays a critical role for marginalized people. For this reason, IWBI has partnered with Enterprise Community Partners. This resulted in a product and plaque that will represent a dual pathway toward human and planetary health. In other words, planetary health, human health and economic health, at scale, are the same.

Incorporating WELL into Enterprise’s criteria helps target health concerns in affordable housing communities, while advancing strategies aimed at decreasing emergency room visits and inpatient hospitalizations. The outcomes of this partnership stand to significantly benefit the quality of life for people and move the needle toward realizing equitable and inclusive access to healthy homes.

As developers and occupants realize that the places where we live, work, learn and play matter, IWBI has positioned itself in the market as one of the go-to resources for health, safety and wellness, ratings and certifications people can recognize and trust, while advocating for equity and the health of people and planet.

Jennifer Berthelot-Jelovic runs A SustainAble Production (ASAP), a holistic sustainability and wellness consulting firm. Learn more at

Leave a Reply