Bronx Borough President Carrion responding to audience member questions
The idea of green building merging with affordable housing is not a new one. However, often when we hear about new LEED residential homes, it is the $2.5 million smacker Venice Beach variety we find out about. So it is reassuring to find that affordable green building is on the rise—and that green building is not just for the hoity-toity anymore.Yesterday, gathered outside of the construction site for the Melrose Commons V, a green affordable housing development in the Bronx, were representatives from the USGBC, McGraw Hill, New York State and City government, public health researchers and community members. Melrose Commons V is being constructed by the Blue Sea Development Company as its second affordable housing community in the South Bronx applying for LEED. (Morrisania Homes, their first development, achieved LEED-Silver).
Bob Ivy, Vice President at McGraw-Hill, began the proceedings by highlighting some interesting research findings. Although the markets are forecasting a 30% drop in single family homes this year, green is still going strong. In 2005, McGraw Hill’s first Smart Market Report showed that only 1.8% of homes were considered green. Since then, the percentage has tripled to 6.2% of all homes. So McGraw-Hill Construction partnered with USGBC to explore the demographics of these new green home buyers. And, according to their findings, green buildings are definitely becoming more democratic. Ivy stated that 57% of those buying green homes earn less than $75,000 per year; 30% earn less than $50,000 per year. Furthermore, 78% of homebuyers earning less than $50,000 per year say they are more inclined to purchase a green home in a down housing market
New York Secretary of State Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez stated that Governor Patterson realizes many cannot afford new homes or to rehabilitate their old home to green standards, so New York State is offering incentives. Patterson just announced on July 23rd that $357 million in grants and financing will be made available to build and renovate 1,149 affordable housing units across the state of New York. Many of the units will be energy efficient, with green construction design and energy STAR appliances. This program makes New York one of only three states to incentivize green single and small multiple unit homes.
Lower maintenance costs and lower energy/water bills were big draws to green home buyers in the Bronx. Namiana Filion, a school teacher, spoke about her experience of buying a LEED certified home in the Bronx less than a year ago. Fillion and her husband are happy to have a healthy and affordable place to live, and Fillion’s husband, the one who pays the bills in their home, is, she said, especially happy about the decreased energy and water bills. Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion stressed the timeliness of the McGraw study, and the need for more green homes in his borough, as the energy costs of heating homes next winter are projected to be exorbitant.
The study also showed that 84% of purchasers listed health as the major factor in their purchase. Yolanda Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Nos Quedamos community group in the Bronx, stressed that public health was a major factor since green buildings in the Bronx help her community overcome environmental justice issues, namely their 4 times higher than national asthma rates. “Asthma rates in our green buildings have gone down to zero," she said. Which is great news!
Dr. Elizabeth Garland of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine spoke about Mount Sinai’s research on pediatric asthma. She said that 1 out of 100 Melrose Avenue residents in the Bronx spent an overnight in the Emergency Room due to asthma--a very depressing statistic. Mount Sinai’s studies have also looked at programs which aim to improve ambient air quality by using HEPA air filters, green cleaning techniques, and integrated pest management. The studies documented a 90% decrease in asthma rates after one year. The next study Garland is embarking on will explore the health benefits of LEED homes. The medical school is partnering with Melrose Commons V to track families moving into the new homes. Together, they will study the effect that living in the new LEED homes has on the health of these families, especially on the rates of childhood asthma.
The Bronx plans to become a hub of affordable green housing. Executive Director Gonzalez added that in addition to improving indoor air quality, reducing energy/water bills by using less energy inside these buildings will mean less outside pollution outside as well. The community, she said, is proud to be helping out in the fight to stave off global warming. Seeing all these diverse groups come together in support of green, affordable housing that will benefit people’s pocketbooks, public health and also the planet, made for a very heartening press conference.