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The unedited classwork of a student journalist at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, currently focusing on the issues concerning the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

NYC leads national trend: green housing projects


A vacant lot in the Highbridge area of the Bronx heralds the latest installment of what some say is the future of low-income housing. XX Avenue* is to be the neighborhood's first affordable rental project built to conform to environmental and sustainable specifications, according to the site's developers, a trend already well under way.

The Bronx is going green from the bottom up, as low-income housing gets an environmental makeover
. New Destiny Housing Corporation, a non-profit providing housing assistance to victims of domestic abuse, will be building XX Anderson green. It bought the property in April for $1.3 million, and will spend $14 million more over two years creating the 41 unit multiple income housing project. Though Highbridge's first building of this type, the larger surrounding area already hosts dozens of environmentally friendly housing projects.

"Green is not just cool."
Brian Levinson
State Senator Jose M. Serrano

They've cropped up over the past few years, says Luke Falk, a project manager for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), because their construction reduces utility bills. NYSERDA is the publicly funded body charged with reducing the state's energy consumption that financially supports and awards "Energy Star" ratings to buildings saving 20 percent more energy than is standard.

Near "
XX Avenue" is the city's first certified "green", or environmentally-sound, affordable housing, Morissania Homes. It's officially designated "green" by NYSERDA's more stringent counterpart, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED only certifies buildings if they fulfill a host of environmentally sound criteria; to meet its tough standards often incurs extra cost.

New Destiny's director of housing development, Joan Beck, says that LEED certification might be prohibitively expensive. 20 percent of XX Avenue will shelter domestic abuse survivors, the rest is allocated to the public. These are apportioned in graduated tiers based on residents' ability to afford their apartment's fair market rate as set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). LEED certification measures, such as using post-consumer materials and employing LEED-licensed monitors could cost $300 to $325 per square foot, says Beck. To meet NYSERDA standards would cost $230 per square foot, slightly more than standard building.

From eco-friendly cars to sustainable chocolate, green labels are a branding strategy in many areas. "Green and LEED certification has been a really great marketing advantage," says Julia Siegel, project manager for sustainability at Full Spectrum of NYC, a sustainable real estate development company responsible for Manhattan's first green mixed-income housing, 1400 Fifth Avenue in Harlem.

XX Avenue, says Beck, isn't trying to be trendy. Her chief consideration is of a different sort of green: residents' saved dollars. "Green is not just cool," says Brian Levinson, a representative for the area's state senator, Jose M. Serano, who has made "greening" the Bronx a top priory, "It's also sustainable, it keeps people living in their communities." People whom, Levinson says, might otherwise be priced-out by sky-high utility bills from gas price increases. "Bringing down energy costs is going to be attractive," says Siegel.

Project manager Anjali Doli of the architecture firm Magnusson Architecture and Planning, PC, which designed XX Avenue says meeting NYSERDA specifications will cost residents less. These include installing water saving fixtures and Energy Star elevators, heat-saving insulation and rain-water irrigation, all of which Falk says reduces energy consumption and consequent bills. Data on the exact amount of money saved is not yet available because NYSERDA's initiative, the Multifamily Building Performance Program, was launched just last year.

Savings, says Levinson, explain the burst of green building in this economically depressed borough, more than green's fashionability. Several residents of the housing projects flanking the weed and cat-infested lot where XX Avenue is to be erected echoed this. Environmental issues are not a concern for many, cheap rent is.

*By law the location of domestic abuse victims' housing may not be publicized for the tenants' safety


Gregory M. White said...

Good explanation of why green issues, while extremely important for the affluent and urbane, might not matter for those people who are just concerned about rent pricing and the cost of living.

Joe Jackson said...

I've consider myself a 'green crusader' for some time now, and it's good to see some grass-roots journalism matching my own personal interests in this key issue. Highbrigde, high brow...

James said...

That picture is someone's personal artwork from I'm sure they'd give you leave but it seems kinda wrong if you didn't ask. just sayin

Sarah Maslin Nir said...

Good point James,
I changed the picture!
Thanks for reading