Work Commences on Groundbreaking Green Affordable Housing Project in Brooklyn

Brooklyn, N.Y.--Ground has broken on the first of a three-phase affordable housing project that will have the largest residential solar energy system in the state of New York.

By Barbra Murray, Contributing Writer

Brooklyn, N.Y.–If you’re thinking the affordable housing sector is playing catch-up in the green movement, think again. Ground has just broken on Gateway Elton Street 1, the first of a three-phase affordable housing project in Brooklyn, and when it reaches completion it will carry the distinction of having the largest solar energy system on a residential development in the state of New York.

Gateway Elton Street is a public-private development spearheaded by the city of New York and the Hudson Companies Inc., with more than a handful of local agencies and other private entities pitching in to help bring the project to fruition. When all is said and done, the property in Brooklyn’s Spring Creek neighborhood will offer 659 affordable apartments and 60,000 square feet of commercial space that will include restaurants and shops.

Designed by Danois Architects, the $68 million first phase will consist of four five- and six-story structures providing a total of 197 apartments reserved for households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income, including households involving a frequently overlooked sub-sector of the low-income population: the mentally challenged. Forty of the units will be designated for individuals transitioning from institutional facilities operated by the New York State Office of Mental Health to the world of independent living. However, residents will have access to much more than a safe, quality home. Gateway Elton Street 1 will provide 15,600 square feet of ground-level commercial space, including a 6,000 square-foot daycare center.

And, of course, the development will be environmentally friendly. Residences will contain Energy Star-rated appliances and fixtures to promote energy efficiency, and the property itself will be constructed to qualify for LEED for Homes Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. But Gateway Elton Street’s most significant feature will be its solar panels, which, once the project has reached full build-out, will create in excess of 200,000 watts of renewable energy through a solar photovoltaic (PV) renewable energy system. Unless another residential project hits the drawing board and manages to beat Gateway Elton to the punch, the Brooklyn mixed-use affordable housing project will, indeed, be home to the biggest such residential system in all of New York.

“Gateway Elton 1 is an extraordinary project that typifies the city’s commitment to setting the standard in green building practices for the affordable housing industry,” Eric Bederman, a spokesperson for NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), tells MHN. HPD contributed the land for the project, as well as $10.6 million in construction financing and an additional $11.8 million in permanent financing through the agency’s Low Income Rental Program. “Green building is a solid investment that provides benefits for the tenants and developer through lowered operating and utility costs, a healthier living environment and increased sustainability.”

The sizable solar panel distinction dovetails with PlaNYC, an initiative spearheaded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the purpose of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030 to accommodate an anticipated increase of at least 1 million in the city’s population.

Incorporating solar panels as a significant portion of a project’s green development agenda is old hat for Gateway Elton developer Hudson Cos. “The goal was to capitalize on what we learned when building Dumont, which is also a low-income housing project,” Aaron Koffman, director of affordable housing with Hudson, tells MHN. Hudson developed the 176-unit Dumont Green, also located in Brooklyn, last year, incorporating an 80,500 watt PV energy system–the largest for a New York City multifamily property at the time.

“Electricity prices are going up, and we literally have free energy sitting right there—the sun,” Koffman continues. “We realized that it was a no-brainer when you combine the fact that panel costs are going down because more people are investing in them. And the payback has gotten to be much better over the last couple of years. It’s even cheaper and more efficient.” It helps that many public agencies are pushing the solar panel agenda. “There are incentives at the local and state levels. New York State has a very good incentives program through NYSERDA.” NYSERDA is the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and is supporting the Gateway Elton Street project with over half a million dollars for participation in the Multi-Family Performance and Solar PV Program.

The resulting energy savings from PVs are good for the environment and, as HPD’s Bederman noted previously, good for the pocketbook. Koffman concurs. Tenants have lower utility bills, and property owners also benefit. “With affordable housing, rents are capped so the ability to raise income from these properties is tough,” he says. “The key is cutting costs.”

Construction of Gateway Elton Street 1 is scheduled to reach completion in 2012. Next year will also mark the commencement of the second phase of the mixed-use development.

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