Why build sustainable affordable housing?
Not only is it environmentally responsible, it is the most cost-effective option available. According to Breaking Ground, a non-profit affordable housing enterprise that provides supportive housing in New York City, by using energy efficient technologies, it cuts down on costs in the long run.
Breaking Ground is a leader in affordable housing in New York, providing over 3300 formerly homeless people housing, 302 transitional housing units, and is the highest provider of permanent housing for their clients. In July 2016, Breaking Ground celebrated the opening of a fully sustainable apartment building on Boston Rd. in the Southern Bronx. The affordable housing project was financed by the New York State Medicaid Redesign Team, who uses housing as a way to reduce medical costs. Director of Design and Construction for Breaking Ground, Elissa Winzleberg truly believes that sustainable housing at Breaking Ground is better for use in the long-term for affordable housing projects.
“It costs less to operate and energy prices are lower.” Winzleberg says. “There are aspects of sustainability that are more pleasant in the therapeutic sense also. For example, day lighting is used in the corridors of the newer buildings, and it is a much more pleasant place to live.”
The affordable housing complex on Boston Rd. has energy efficient lighting, heating broilers, and plumbing. The design of the buildings are also made to maximize light and reduce costs. There is a green roof on site, courtyards and landscape terraces, as well as bicycle storage.
“All of the newer projects are green and sustainable. We have eight sustainable affordable housing buildings that are already built and two under construction presently,” Winzleberg says. “They are LEED Silver buildings, and we’re enrolled in Enterprise Green Communities. We also use active design, which encourages people to use stairs instead of elevators and brings light into stairwell.”
There are various types of sustainable regulatory bodies, but Breaking Ground is easily following the best. LEED is an international third-party rating system that consists of a set of regulations to qualify buildings as sustainable and environmentally friendly. These ratings include sustainable water development, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor air quality. As well as following sustainable building code, Entreprise Green Communities is a set of criteria that determines how to improve the lives of low-income families in affordable housing through sustainable building practices. By combining regulations of green building practices with sustainable social strategy, Breaking Ground sets the bar for how low-income housing should be built.
Breaking Ground focuses on properties in the Bronx because the land is affordable. The non-for-profit began their first project in Manhattan when they took over the Times Square Hotel that currently has 652 units. This remains the largest affordable housing complex for Breaking Ground. Today, projects are being built in South Bronx and the high-quality design and architecture are helping at-risk neighbourhoods.
“There is a huge amount of affordable housing being built in the Bronx. For awhile, it was a no-man’s land but there is a large amount of housing being built there now. I wouldn’t call it gentrified like Brooklyn and the majority of it’s affordable,” Winzleberg says. “We have a commitment to do architecture and to beautiful buildings. It takes the stigma from the type of housing we are doing and I think it helps to stabilize the area.”
Breaking Ground is leading the way by combining a sustainable building agenda with beautiful design. Being able to provide homes for people in need is rewarding as well. “I’ve been fortunate enough to see people come into these buildings with their garbage bags full of their possessions,” Winzleberg says. “They have never had a key and now they have their own place.”
Demonstrating how sustainable design can be cost-effective allows non-for-profits to help even more people in need and provides a possible solution to the homelessness crisis that pervades large cities across North America. Perhaps Toronto should take a tip from Breaking Ground and make sustainable design the only way to build affordable housing.