This project, sponsored by the New York City Housing Partnership, provides 30 three-family houses in the South Bronx area of New York. The first affordable housing programme to earn the “Energy Star Home” label from the US Environmental Protection Agency and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Sunflower Way is designed to encourage the inclusion of energy-efficient, high performance design into affordable housing through a range of energy and water saving features. Since each house contains a 3-bedroom apartment for the owner and 2 rental units (1-bed and 2-bed), the anticipated rental income can be used to underwrite the mortgage, enabling those on lower incomes to own their own home for the first time. This project was designed in accordance with the needs identified by the local community for affordable, environmentally sound homes, and has contributed to the revitalisation of this former run-down neighbourhood.
Aims and Objectives
The project aim is to:
- show how resource efficient housing can be developed for minimal additional cost.
Although the average quality of housing in NYC has improved in recent decades, problems of affordability continue to grow worse. More than 25 per cent of the population pay over 50 per cent of their income in rent. In 1990 the Melrose Commons area of New York, where this project is situated, had 6,000 residents whose median annual income was less than $12,000.
Home ownership is the primary generator of wealth creation for average Americans. By extending this opportunity to low and moderate-income households, projects such as this promote equity and sustainability. The development of low and medium-income housing in this area has resulted in an entire new generation of home owners and the transformation of the South Bronx area has been much heralded as a success story.
Sunflower Way is designed to be socially and environmentally sustainable, providing first-time homeowners with long-term affordability benefits that go beyond the provision of a subsidised purchase price. It is designed as a demonstration project to show that energy saving techniques can be used with only minimal additional capital cost. It is a major shift in thinking regarding affordable housing.
As part of the Urban Renewal Plan organised by Nos Quedamos, community residents participated via surveys and workshops in the determination of what type of housing would be built. Residents preferred a mix of buildings for housing (6-8 storeys buildings with retail units on the ground floor, townhouses, and single family homes) that were affordable and environmentally sound. Sunflower Way was designed in accordance with these broad principles established by the local community residents.
A range of state and national government housing and energy departments were involved in the project. Nos Quedamos was the community sponsor – providing an opportunity for a local community-based organisation to be involved in the planning and marketing of the project. The American Lung Association provided guidelines on how to improve indoor air quality and these were followed.
Each house consists of an owner’s unit and two units for rent. Houses were sold on the private market for $290,000 and were affordable for those on income between $41,258 and $70,950. Low mortgage rates have meant that families with incomes of as little as $35,000 can afford to buy one of these houses. Similar funding streams are being developed for successor projects.
The cost of the design, development and evaluation of Sunflower Way was approx. $12.1m ($133,000 per apartment). The total increased cost for the technologies required to make each house Energy Star compliant was $5,492. J P Morgan provided construction financing of $7.5m. A total of $2.6m in direct subsidy was provided to the project plus the value of the land ($712,000). These subsidies were from various state and national pots.
Why is it innovative?
- Use of energy and water saving design.
- Incorporation of three apartments together, two for rent as well as the owner’s apartment.
- Affordability for households earning as a little as $41,000 per annum ($35,000 with the 2003 level of mortgage rates).
- Involvement of the local community in the urban revitalisation programme.
What is the environmental impact?
Significant time savings were achieved with the panellised building method. All 30 of the structures were erected in 48 days (compared to 4 months using conventional methods) and the project was occupied within one year of the construction start. Monitoring of homes has shown that the homes are performing at a total energy reduction of about 87.5 per cent of a typical affordable housing project in New York City (i.e. 5 BTU/ft2/HDD compared to 24 BTU/ft2/HDD). This results in a saving of $1,500 in energy costs savings per house for annual heating, cooling and water heating.
Industrialised construction methods were used to ensure that a tighter envelope was created and construction waste was drastically reduced.
Is it financially sustainable?
The anticipated rental income is used in the mortgage underwriting process to allow for those on lower incomes to qualify for a mortgage. Fifty per cent of the homes were guaranteed to existing neighbourhood residents and this has been easily achieved. Units are allocated by lottery.
What is the social impact?
The status of the area has significantly increased as a result of this and other development being carried out. Local residents no longer feel that they are an excluded sector of society.
Studies have been carried out to monitor the energy used and these show an average saving of $1,500 per house per year compared to energy consumption in similar size homes elsewhere in New York.
Successor projects are now being established.
NGO, regional government, local government, private sector