schermerhorn-house-terrace-brooklyn-green-leed-nyc-01Green terrace at Schermerhorn House (Photo: Ennead Architects)

The creation of quality affordable housing, long a concern in New York City, has taken on added urgency in recent years, particularly as Mayor Bill de Blasio has made it the centerpiece of his agenda. Similarly, reducing carbon emissions to address climate change and improve local air quality has been a major emphasis since de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, championed that cause during his tenure. Increasingly, the two priorities have converged resulting in the growth of green affordable housing.

Green building design first emerged as a luxury item that was limited to big budget projects such as high-end apartment and office buildings while early affordable housing projects incorporating green design elements were seen as a bit exotic and perhaps faddish by some. While a healthy skepticism about projects claiming the “green” mantle remains, the question now is not whether an affordable housing project in New York will be green, but how green?

We present a brief history of green affordable housing in New York City through a look at ten representative projects that have been developed over the past decade.

1. Morrisania Homes

One of the first projects in New York City to combine affordable housing with green design was the Morrisania Homes in the Bronx.  Completed in 2007, it was the first affordable housing project in New York to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes (LEED-H) Silver certification, demonstrating that green architecture was not only for luxury buildings.

The Morrisania Homes was an infill project consisting of 16 three-family and 8 two-family homes with a total of 64 units built on vacant properties scattered across four city blocks near the Freeman Street subway station.  The townhouses are affordable home ownership units subsidized as part of the City’s Partnership New Homes program with City and State funding.

Green elements included Energy Star appliances and water efficient building systems.   While the sustainable features reportedly added $700,000 to an overall budget of $14.5 million, they are credited with reducing monthly utility costs by 30 percent, a savings that is particularly helpful for households of modest means.  Being green helps save green.

The buildings were designed by Steven Winter Associates and developed by Blue Sea Development Company, which has become one of the City’s leading developers of green affordable housing.