What Do You Mean Affordable Housing Isn’t Green Anymore?


We applaud the thrust of David Bench’s  November 10 article on ArchDaily.com “The Other ‘Green Way’: Why Can’t New York Build More Quality Affordable Housing?”, but take issue with some of his conclusions. Via Verde has been a smashing success in delivering high quality affordable housing that’s also remarkably sustainable, and New York should be building more quality affordable housing like it. But the fact that more could be done shouldn’t blind us to the quality affordable housing development going on around us. Bench opens with, “Two years after the completion of Grimshaw and Dattner’s acclaimed Via Verde (“Green Way”), no successors have even been proposed for this supposed model for the design and construction of new affordable housing.” Not so!

For those of you who think nothing innovative has been happening in quality and sustainable affordable housing, keep reading. Sustainable affordable housing is on the rise even as rental apartment construction in New York City hit a 27 year high last week. One needs to look no further than the La Central development on the Bronxchester site literally next door to Via Verde. La Central is a 985 unit, 5 building complex that is 100% affordable. Developed by Hudson, BRP, The Kretchmer Companies, and Common Ground with FXFowle and MHG as architects, La Central will draw upon many of the celebrated features of Via Verde including a green roof and photovoltaic (PV) array over 5 times the size of Via Verde’s. La Central pushes innovation further by incorporating the PV array into a resilient microgrid complete with batteries and cogeneration – all of which pays for itself and enhances the economics of the development while providing tangible electrical and HVAC services to residents in the event of an outage. The courtyard and rooftop landscape design by Future Green Studio stands to continue the ribbon of landscaped attractive outdoor space that began at Via Verde. Not convinced?

La Central

La Central is far from the only innovator – Bright Power’s roster of projects includes affordable housing projects pursuing the Passive House Standard, which typically reduces energy use by 80% when compared to typical code-minimum developments. Via Verde and Dumont Green, two icons of energy efficiency of the past decade on which Bright Power worked, comparatively saved 30% and 26% respectively. Or look to Essex Crossing, a mega development currently under design located in the heart of New York’s Lower East Side that will include 1000 units of housing, of which 50% is affordable. Essex Crossing won an Affordable Green Communities award at Greenbuild 2014 in recognition of the 9-building neighborhood development’s groundbreaking achievements in establishing a vibrant and equitable neighborhood, and is projected to be 20-30% more energy efficient than the typical building under today’s codes. These are just a few of the dozens of projects Skye Gruen, our Director of New Construction & Sustainability, and her team here at Bright Power are actively working on in an effort to improve the quality and sustainability of new affordable housing development.

Essex Crossing

While high quality and sustainable building qualities is seeping into the fabric of New York’s affordable housing development, building better affordable housing is just the beginning. The key to sustainable buildings isn’t just building them right – it’s about tracking their energy use from the start and proactively managing them throughout their lifecycle, too. We disagree with David Bench – sustainable, affordable housing is getting built. The real challenge – a challenge Bright Power is tackling now – is how to make sure today’s cutting-edge buildings continue to perform after construction wraps.