What Has Michael J. Hanley Been Doing for Fair and Sustainable Housing?

Michael J. Hanley and Tom Darden at this year's Hanley Awards. Photo credit: The Hanley Foundation.When it comes to the big names in housing and particularly sustainable housing for underserved communities, one man stands out from the crowd. Michael J. Hanley, President of the Hanley Foundation, has been working for more sustainable housing, and housing for those in need, for over 15 years.

Michael J. Hanley and his partner, Michael M. Wood, started Hanley Wood as a custom publisher in 1976. They steadily acquired building publications and media and became award-winning leaders in the industry. By the time Hanley retired from the company, he was ready to take his "big-picture guy" thinking to the world of sustainability, helping the construction industry see the importance of conservation and serving the community. 

The Hanley Foundation provides funding for housing, environmental and other causes. Michael J. Hanley started the family foundation in 1999 out of a desire to give back to the community. The foundation supports places that provide very basic shelter like the largely church and volunteer-driven Friendship Place, a housing resource for the homeless in Washington, D.C., as well as environmental organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and civic organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

The foundation also gives out the prestigious Hanley Awards: the Hanley Award for Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Housing, a $50,000 award now in its fifth year, and the Hanley Award for Community Service in Sustainable Housing, a $25,000 award which was newly added this year.

The Vision and Leadership Award is for experts in technical, educational, or policy initiatives in residential construction. Award nominees are folks who have made deep, long-standing and influential contributions to sustainability. 

Says Hanley of the award: “I wanted to create an award that recognizes the passion, dedication, and genius we’ve seen from those leading the way toward sustainable housing, that supports their continued contributions, and that inspires the work of others in this field. This is a critical time for sustainability to take hold in the housing industry and set an example for others.”

The Community Service award was given out for the first time this year, and the winner, Make it Right, has a lot to teach the industry about how to make affordable housing that truly involves the community being served in the process. The organization, started by Brad Pitt in 2007 to address some of the damage done by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, has built over 100 units of affordable, sustainable housing in the Lower 9th Ward. Make it Right is on track to build 150 in total.

Its approach, as described by Make it Right Executive Director Tom Darden, is one that includes the specific needs of members of the communities where building is taking place. The designs for each community are kept private out of respect for their unique needs. 

The organization's method for developing community housing was pioneered by this year's Sustainability and Vision Hanley Award winner, Bob Berkebile, principle at BNIM Architects, a Kansas City-based firm that contributed a home design to the Lower 9th Ward.

Berkebile's model of inclusion had already shown success in the Manheim Park neighborhood of Kansas City, where a century-old elementary school was transformed into a mixed-use building. Make it Right also added 50 LEED Platinum rental units in the neighborhood, restoring pride and energy to the community.

Make it Right takes on the goal of building well-designed LEED Platinum homes for the same price as conventional homes. How does it do this? One asset is its skill at resourcing both public and private funds, including tax credits, community development dollars, cash, and in-kind gifts. Its unconventional sources of money and materials are not the way most builders do business, and are a part of why Make it Right is a model for others in the industry.

Previous Hanley Award recipients include Edward Mazria, who founded Architecture 2030; Alex Wilson, founder of BuildingGreen LLC; Sam Rashkin, who created the Energy Star for Homes rating system, and Dennis Creech, co-founder and executive director of Southface