Affordable Housing Goes Green

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Affordable Housing Goes Green

In a neighborhood better known for its poverty and blight, a new apartment building in the South Bronx is garnering attention not only for its affordability, tasteful design, and sculpture garden, but also for its green features and sustainable elements. The Intervale Green complex, on Intervale Avenue, between Freeman Street and Louis Niñe Boulevard, is dispelling the usual assumptions associated with sustainability and going green. There is a strong perception that “green” caters only to the wealthy, who have the expendable income to be more environmentally conscious by buying a Prius or shopping at an expensive, organic, grocery store. This low-income housing development and many others being built across the country are testimony to the fact that these green features are not just for the wealthy and are more than just good for the environment.

Those who have moved into the 128-unit development since its opening in February of this year are especially conscious of the impact the design of this building will have on their pocketbooks. In a city where, according to the 2005-2007 American Community Survey roughly 19% of people live below the poverty level, a low-income housing complex that also helps its residents save in monthly costs is a relief, even more so in this current economic climate. Residents, who qualified for the units and are low-income or formerly homeless, are expected to save about 30% on their monthly utility bills. More efficient lighting, Energy Star appliances, and well-insulated windows are some of the main green features that will help reduce energy consumption. The complex also boasts three green roofs with vegetable and flower gardens, which will help cool the building and aid in storm water runoff. In addition, they are anticipated to improve air quality, an important consideration in a neighborhood with twice the average rate of asthma than the rest of New York City.

The idea to build the Intervale Green complex originated from and was developed by the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDCo). A women-centered organization founded in 1991 by Nancy Biberman, its mission is to work “with families in the Bronx who struggle with the multiple challenges presented by poverty, and who, like all of us, aspire to a healthy, financially stable future.” The project is part of a pilot program through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and is, at present, the largest multi-family, high-rise, Energy Star affordable housing development in the country. In addition to getting funding from the state authority, organizations like Enterprise Foundation’s Green Communities Initiative assisted financially and provided their expertise.

Many more of these green affordable housing projects are underway across the country, and will certainly get a boost with more increased funding under the federal stimulus package. Intervale Green complex is an excellent example of how sustainable design is no longer unattainable for people of more modest means. Whether a luxury high-rise, or low-income housing development, green is in, and more accessible and affordable than you think.

Tags: new york city

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