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Case Study: Green Design

Santo Domingo Tribal Housing Authority, Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico

Santo Domingo Tribal Housing Authority

Case study topic & focus
Green Design

Service area
Sandoval and Santa Fe counties, New Mexico

Number of tribal citizens

Indian Housing Block Grant

Annual budget

Number of employees
Seven Full Time


The Santo Domingo Tribal Housing Authority (SDTHA) is a nonprofit developer that plans, designs, develops, and manages affordable housing for the community of the Santo Domingo Pueblo. Established in 1995, the SDTHA is the pueblo’s tribally designated housing entity (TDHE) that provides affordable, safe, culturally tailored, sustainable and healthy housing to the community.

The Santo Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo is a traditional pueblo located on the Rio Grande between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Its people have a rich local culture that has not been overwhelmed by the outside influences brought to the area by Spanish colonization, the railroad in the 19th century, or Route 66 in the 20th century.

Residents of the pueblo, approximately 3,000, maintain their traditional religious practices and social structure. The center portion of the old Pueblo Village is on the National Register of Historic Places and is still occupied by tribal members who actively use its historic plaza for the pueblo’s annual Green Corn Dance each August 4, as well as the sacred kiva spaces and historic church.

Project description

In 2015, the Santo Domingo Tribal Housing Authority applied for financing with the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority (MFA) and included the use of Green Communities Criteria into the design and construction of the housing development. Green design was one of the options to meet threshold requirements to access tax credits.

Over the past 20 years, more attention has been given to the correlation between the structural design of a house and its building materials, and their impact on a healthy living environment.

Green design, or green architecture, is an approach to building that ensures minimal impact on the environment, both in terms of products and materials used in the construction. In the functionality of the building, green design minimizes harmful effects on human health and the environment. The “green" architect or designer uses eco-friendly building materials and construction practices.

Lenders and developers are interested in green design, as well as other stewards of housing resources. Many federal, state, and local funders and resource providers have turned to established programs developed to address these concerns.

Over the past 20 years, more attention has been given to the correlation between the structural design of a house and its building materials, and their impact on a healthy living environment. In green design, it all matters – sustainability and durability of the housing unit; the use, function, and contributions to a healthy environment; energy savings; and environmental quality of the community.

Promising approach

Green design can be comprehensive or it can be a light touch. It can be expensive (think of the LEED process) or can be minimal (think Energy Star appliances).

The Green Communities Criteria 2015, now in its fourth iteration since 2004, attempts to create a comprehensive yet manageable process to affordable housing. Cost of affordable housing is an issue nationwide so the core principles of a green program need to add value, but not cost.

Studies have shown that following the green criteria has reduced utility bills and provided a healthier living environment without adding more than 5 percent to a development budget. The long-term benefits to the owner, the residents, and the community are worth the incremental cost.


  • Marketing – Offering a housing development with a green design certification indicates enhanced building standards have been used in the structures, which in turn shows a commitment to the environment and an investment in the health of the community.
  • Green design criteria require resident education on the green design and materials, and support to make them function at their optimum.
  • Lower utility bills, including water usage, is a plus for the residents, but also the owner as they typically pay water bills. At Santo Domingo, a high-desert climate and scarce water resources intensify the need to protect water resources.

Lessons learned

  • Make an architect knowledgeable about green design as part of the development team early in the process.
  • Make the entire development team aware of the green design process, especially the general contractor and labor.
  • Document key practices and steps in the construction to support and ensure green certification.

Ongoing challenges

  • Cost burdens for affordable housing has caused some funders to scale back green design in the belief that a noticeable cost savings will be realized.
  • Benefits of green design take time to quantify, whether through utility comparisons, energy usage, or healthier residents. Many lenders and homeowners are impatient to realize cost savings without factoring in the slower long-term investment.
  • New products are being designed all the time and can be incorporated in green design every year. Keeping up with innovative practices can be challenging, especially for a small community.

On the horizon

Like the Santo Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo, a community commitment is needed upfront to include green design into the building plans. As needs and priorities are developed for new housing, green design and environmental goals can be set, even before site selection.

Santo Domingo Pueblo had a positive experience in implementing green design into its housing projects. Not only did the design preserve scarce water resources, it also maintained the pueblo’s cultural values and preserved historically significant styles.