Going green is no longer seen as a luxury. Rather, it is now recognized by developers, politicians, healthcare providers and businesses as a fundamental need for environmental and human wellbeing—especially in the case of underrepresented communities comprised of Latinos, African Americans, and other minority groups living in affordable housing.
There is an effort taking shape in New York City to address the adverse implications of climate change on health in low-income communities. What is NYC’s solution? Energy efficiency, clean technology, sustainability, and a focus on healthy living. Agencies like the Housing Preservation Department (HPD) are working with great urgency to incorporate cost-effective energy efficiency, water conservation, and healthy living design practices into affordable housing via Integrated Physical Needs Assessments for their capital planning processes. For developers, city agencies and community-based organizations creating affordable housing is no longer their sole mission. Rather they are seeking to ensure that healthy, cost-effective, sustainable, and affordable housing is a human right.
Thankfully, both New York City and State are committed to sustainability and affordable housing. The city has an aggressive goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, commonly referred to as “80×50.”
It will take many initiatives, large and small, to get the built environment to reach its emission goals while ensuring quality affordable housing in New York City.
The Carbon Challenge
This voluntary program is a public-private partnership spearheaded by the Mayor’s office. It challenges leaders in the private, institutional, and non-profit sectors to commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2025.
One City Built to Last
In addition to the Carbon Challenge, there is a menu of leading-edge sustainable green building initiatives outlined in One City: Built to Last, a ten-year plan for New York City to meet 80×50 goals, that addresses everything from high energy performance standards to implementing energy efficiency retrofits in key city buildings. The programs show a range of stakeholders—colleges and universities, hospitals, multifamily building owners, commercial building owners and tenants, and hotels—how to cut greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, and reduce the impacts of climate change.
Enterprise Green Communities
Another environmental certification that is generating positive results in the city is Enterprise Green Communities, often referred to as EGC. It promotes active and healthy lifestyles—and have a lower carbon footprint. Guidelines from The Center for Active Design show affordable housing developers practical ways to earn EGC status, including:
- Intentional design of outdoor courtyards and recreational spaces to encourage cycling and walking
- Stronger connections to community resources
- Improved access to natural light
Combined with several other sustainable design strategies, the opportunity for physical activity at home can be linked with a decline in cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and body mass index.
Leaders in the sustainability and affordable housing industries aren’t acting in silos.
They are sharing their strategies for increasing energy efficiency, tenant health and wellbeing, and the preservation of affordable housing in underserved communities. In addition to well known green certifications, like EGC, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and ENERGY STAR, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has sustainability and efficiency incentive programs that are applicable and economically feasible for affordable housing developments in underrepresented communities. Developers can choose the best measures for their buildings—and their tenants.
The Bronx is becoming a leader in efficient, equitable housing.
Home to the Yankees and a stream of cultural diversity, The Bronx is still falling behind when it comes to generating income and wealth. Compared to its neighbor, Manhattan, with a median income of $77,559, Bronx residents make $37,525. However, over the last 10 years, the Bronx has witnessed an increase in sustainable affordable housing in low income and minority communities. Bright Power alone has worked on almost 100 affordable and minority housing new construction or rehabilitation projects in the Bronx over the last 10 years. Its residents now have the chance to tell a new Bronx Tale, one that features healthier lives and lower carbon footprints. Sustainable and healthy homes are just a few of the important steps needed to achieve a more equitable, inclusive and prosperous Bronx.
Ten years ago, Morrisania Homes became one of the first projects in New York City to combine affordable housing with green design. It includes energy-efficient appliances and building systems and made history as the first affordable housing project in New York to receive LEED Silver certification.
Via Verde, or The Green Way, in the South Bronx, co-developed by Jonathan Rose Companies and Phipps Houses took it a few steps further. The project began in 2006 as part of the New Housing New York Legacy, a competition launched by the Bloomberg Administration which sought a blueprint for how to build high quality and innovative green affordable housing projects in the Bronx. It defined a breakthrough set of goals for new developments: the inclusion of safe, healthy, and sustainable amenities.
Riders on the 2 or 5 subway lines can’t miss the solar panels and bright colors that distinguish Via Verde’s facade. It serves as a beacon of sustainable, healthy, affordable housing in the borough. Bronx residents, architects, as well as energy and sustainability professionals view this project as the new paradigm for affordable housing: aesthetically attractive and LEED certified. Regarding the latter, the building features ENERGY STAR appliances, efficient building systems, rainwater capture, the use of recycled materials, a green roof, community gardens, and active design features to encourage exercise among residents.
It is not a stretch to say the Bronx is experiencing a surge in green affordable housing projects. Near Via Verde, La Central is one such example. Co-developed by Hudson Companies, BRP Companies, and Breaking Ground, this project is comprised of several buildings that include supportive and affordable apartment units, efficient building systems, renewable solar energy, as well as retail space, a Brownxnet TV studio, a YMCA, and a skate park. It is on its way to becoming another Bronx LEED-certified project.
Bright Power is proud to have worked on Via Verde, La Central, and many other new developments in the Bronx.
Sustainability, Health, and Savings for All Zip Codes
Climate change is real. And buildings and their construction make up 36% of global energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions. The effects of climate change are being felt all over the world now—those harsh impacts are hitting poor and underrepresented communities that typically sit in vulnerable areas the hardest.
But sometimes it takes a crisis for people to act. In the case of the climate crisis, social and climate justice advocates are fighting for fairer environmental laws and policies that positively impact the most vulnerable. Political candidates, who for the most part stayed on the climate justice sidelines until very recently, are now stepping up and speaking out.
And never forget that the flip side of crisis is an opportunity. Since the climate crisis—or, to be accurate, crises—those communities, companies, and economies who can best harness clean tech/clean energy solutions will reap financial, environmental and public health benefits. Those solutions are increasingly designed to also fight economic inequality. This has caused developers, architects, and city planners to design sustainable, resilient, and healthier affordable housing and communities.
Collective commitments like the 2015 Paris Agreement,* OneNYC, and 80×50 are holding communities accountable for their carbon footprints and pushing agendas that include tangible green, healthy living goals for minority and low-income communities. It is a joint effort, the success of which depends on the collaboration of businesses, governments, nonprofits, and communities, as well as the acknowledgment that no matter the zip code, everyone is entitled to safer, resilient, greener, and healthier places in which to live, work, and play.
*The Paris Agreement is the first global climate pact to set forth national emissions reductions targets. The U.S. was originally a signatory to the Paris Agreement but the Trump Administration announced that the country would begin the process of pulling out.