Annual Report 2010Annual Report 2010

135th Street: The Nations First Green Retrofit Project

According to the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s most recent published Housing and Vacancy Survey, Citywide contract rents increased just 1.6 percent in real dollars between 2005 and 2008, while median gross rents increased by 4.2 percent over the same period of time. The difference in these figures can be attributed to rising utility costs, which affect renters, homeowners and multifamily building owners alike. This makes green building more than a trendy concept—it makes it a solid investment. Going green keeps utility costs down, making housing more affordable.

In Central Harlem, building green and keeping emissions down does more than lower operating costs: it can also contribute to saving lives. Air quality in Central Harlem is low. A truck and bus depot, upwind emissions from incinerators, nearby highways and the main thoroughfares for diesel-puffing trucks all combine to create air quality that fails National Ambient Air Quality standards. Poor air quality is one of the major contributors to childhood asthma, which occurs in Harlem in rates that disturb doctors and public health officials alike. The national average for asthma in children is seven percent.


In New York City, the average is 17 percent. And in Harlem, that figure jumps to a whopping 26 percent. Asthma is currently understood as something to which one can be genetically disposed, but is triggered by environmental factors. It disproportionately affects people of color and those living in poor urban areas, and for the past decade Harlem has been active in working to improve air quality and help caretakers manage childhood asthma.

Concern for the public health is one of the reasons the City is focused on green and sustainable housing. In 2010 the Jonathan Rose Companies completed New York City’s first affordable housing project to qualify for funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Green Retrofit Program (GRP). HUD GRP for Multifamily Housing was authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—better known as the Stimulus Bill—for energy and green retrofit investment in properties, to ensure the maintenance and preservation of properties and the continued operation and maintenance of energy efficiency technologies.

The nation’s first retrofit project, located at W. 135th street, and the $7.4 million renovation of ten identical six-story, elevator buildings is based on comprehensive analysis of capital investments needed to enhance quality of life for residents while increasing

energy efficiency. The work entails replacing existing inefficient boilers with high-efficiency models; installing ceiling fans to reduce dependence on air conditioners; installing rooftop photovoltaic panels to help support base-building electrical loads; replacing or repairing windows; installing energy efficient corridor lighting with motion sensors and renovating common areas with low toxicity paints, sealants and adhesives; replacing deteriorated common area flooring with high recycled content terra cotta tiles; upgrading elevator controls; and upgrading select unit finishes such as countertops, cabinets, and bathroom tile.

Feeling secure and safe in their homes is equally important to the tenants’ health. Vianela Breton who has lived in a two-bedroom at West 135th Street Apartments for 16 years. For her two daughters, a 17-year-old and a 12-year-old, this is the only home they have known. Vianela recalls feeling unsafe even behind her locked door. The building’s main intercom system could be accessed simply by banging on the panel that covers the console. Now all of that has changed; in addition to the physical improvements in the form of new appliances, floors and finishes, Vianela and her children enjoy the comfort of knowing that a state-of-the-art security system monitors the property from cellar to roof. “I feel much


safer now with the system. Before this, I would worry about our safety. The camera faces the entry door and unless you have a key, you cannot get in until you speak directly with the person that you are visiting.”

Fellow tenant Roxanne Gayle, who moved to West 135th Street Apartments in 2001 with her three sons aged 20, 17 and 11, has another reason to feel secure. As is the case in every apartment, the rehabilitation has given her new appliances, a ceiling fan, new energy efficient windows and a freshly painted home—but the costs of these capital improvements were not passed on to her. Despite being laid off from her job, she can afford to keep her home while she looks for work: if it was not for the affordable rent, “I wouldn’t even want to think about what would happen. My eldest would not be able to attend college for one, because all that I earn would be going toward the food and rent. I am extremely grateful to have the home that I have in this great neighborhood.”

Keeping these families in their homes goes a long way toward stabilizing the neighborhood and contributing to its overall health. While the Harlem community has been hard at work reducing emergency room visits and helping those afflicted get proper medication, the very best defense against asthma attacks, which can be fatal, is to remove asthma triggers

in the first place. The greening of W. 135th Street means that boilers will emit less carbon monoxide, and green tiles, sealants and adhesives will reduce the amount of formaldehyde in the building. In addition to using healthier materials, the ongoing operations and maintenance plans will include use of green cleaning products, which do not use chemicals that trigger asthma, and a plan to educate tenants on green cleaning of their apartments will also help reduce the need for toxic pest sprays.

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