In New York City’s South Bronx, a new 47-unit complex is proving that green and affordable can go together. Fox Point, developed by New York City–based Palladia Inc. and Enterprise Community Partners, is showing that environmentally sound homes for lower-income households can be a model for the future.
Among the green initiatives at Fox Point are a microturbine system that generates electricity using heat from the boiler that ordinarily would be wasted, reducing the building’s utility costs.
“Fox Point is an excellent example of what you can do with the right combination of innovative thinking, forward-looking partners, and well-thought-out design,” says Victoria Shire, deputy director of Enterprise Community Partners, New York City. “The usual perception is that green is more expensive, but it’s not. The Enterprise Green Communities Initiative has shown that building green calls for thoughtful improvements in decision making, requiring architects, owners, contractors, subcontractors, and others to work together to build differently.”
The greenest thing about Fox Point is that it was built one block from a subway line, adds Sally Bernstein, senior director, capital planning and development, at Palladia. “We have also made sure we have an airtight building envelope with great insulation—something any building could do—and we made sure that paints, carpets, and sealants were all made from low-emitting materials.”
Paul Freitag, a regional director of development at Jonathan Rose Companies (JRCo), a mission-based multidisciplinary real estate firm with its headquarters in New York City, agrees. The 222-unit Via Verde (the Green Way)—which JRCo is codeveloping with Phipps Houses in partnership with Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects—is a green, affordable housing development, also in New York’s south Bronx. “We utilize low-tech strategies like cross-ventilation, solar shading, and green material choices, as well as planted green roofs, photovoltaic panels, high-efficiency mechanical systems, and energy-conserving appliances,” he says.
Green and affordable will continue to go together and may offer new opportunities for U.S. entrepreneurs, says Stephen Whyte, managing director of Seattle-based Vitus Group, a developer of affordable housing that emphasizes sustainability, green asset management, use of alternative energy sources, and ongoing energy consumption monitoring. Vitus built the 32-unit Northwood Place in Ketchum, Idaho, a 100 percent affordable development that uses solar power to generate electricity in the common areas and uses geothermal energy to melt snow on walkways and on the parking surfaces. “Because of the heavy Idaho snowfall, owners usually had to significantly increase the size of the parking areas so they would have a place to store the snow,” says Whyte, who is assistant chair of the Affordable/Workforce Council of ULI. “By using geothermal energy, we don’t have much snow buildup and thus could construct more units on less land, making Northwood Place more affordable.”
Whyte says his firm continually studies new trends in green, affordable development and urges those interested in the sector to do the same. “You can always learn from the experts since the green, affordable trend is in its infancy,” he says. “Reach out to others to find out what works and what doesn’t.”
Green, affordable developers also should provide information on their efforts, Freitag says. “Perhaps a builder could feature interactive panel displays in the lobby about how the green building works,” he says. “You should show tenants and visitors how you’ve achieved green.”
Shire advises builders to continually model system performance—before beginning construction as well as after completion—in order to set benchmarks. “Performance data drive operations,” she says. “Building green, affordable housing requires making green commitments in plans and specs and really closely watching construction—not just photovoltaic panels, but the little details to make sure you get everything done the way it should be done.”