When RUPCO began developing Energy Square at the site of a former bowling alley in Kingston, New York, the goal was to incorporate space for a creative arts center along with space for 57 rental apartments. But the goal of making the building "net zero for living" was always in the back of leaders' minds.
A net zero building is when developers negate greenhouse gases produced by finding other ways to reduce emissions and absorb carbon dioxide. Techniques include a geothermal energy source, insulation, solar panels and more.
"RUPCO was always somewhat progressive in its approach to green building technology and sustainability," shares Chuck Snyder, assistant vice president of Real Estate and Construction. "We said, 'Let's see if we can't do something that's net zero' and that's how the project was born."
In the NeighborWorks network, 129 organizations employed some green standard on a total of 12,964 projects in fiscal year 2021. These included both for-sale and rental projects, ranging from small repairs to new construction. Other programs included green vehicles, community gardens and more.
"A lot of our multifamily developers and owners understand all of the benefits that come with green building," says Clare Rosenberger, NeighborWorks director of Real Estate Programs. "The longer term ownership costs are lower. The tenants' well-being and overall environmental benefits are better." Green buildings align with the missions of many network organizations as well, she says, adding: "Energy-efficient buildings enhance their ability to serve the community."
In New York, Snyder says that as he watches the meter showing energy used and the meter showing energy created, he can see the balance. "It means all of the modeling we did and all of the angst we had in designing these systems is working perfectly," he says. The project is also certified LEED Platinum, the highest designation from the U.S. Green Building Council.
RUPCO rented the apartments, a mix of studio, one-, two- and three- bedroom units, long before the front doors opened. Of primary benefit to residents: No electric bills.
"Everything we're working on now is green in one way or the other," says Snyder. Current projects include both geothermal energy and solar arrays. One, a renovation of a 1980s motel, is another net zero candidate. Being green is "always very close to the top of any project we're doing. How green can we possibly make it?"
Being green is a priority, too, at Mutual Housing. When the network organization constructed Mutual Housing at Spring Lake in Woodland, California in 2015, it became the first rental housing community in the nation to receive the designation. The development is home to farmworkers who previously had lived in sub-standard housing.
"We got requests from people all over the world to tour our site," says Bryan Dove, director of Asset Management. "A delegation came from Sweden." The technology is state-of-the-art and includes high-efficiency showerheads, Energy Star appliances, and no natural gas. By the time they built the second phase of the development several years later, the technology had become more mainstream and it was easier to do. The development now has 101 units, from studios to four bedrooms.
While workers do get electricity bills, they are significantly less than average – sometimes just a $10 administration fee to the utility company. "The buildings are very efficient," says Dove. And residents say they're proud to care for the environment.
New construction projects, which include multifamily housing and housing for individuals coming out of homelessness, also pay attention to sustainability. "Mutual Housing has always had a green or sustainability interest – for our residents and also for the greater community," Dove says. It's not just lower costs for residents that the nonprofit keeps in mind. "It's health and safety."
Youth resident Gerardo Brambila says living in Spring Lake, his parents became more aware of energy usage and now help out other family members who live on other properties, suggesting they unplug items they aren't using to save on energy bills.
Manuel Maravilla saw a similar result with his parents. "Something just sort of clicked," he says, adding thatmore than saving on bills, it's "the idea of having a green future."
alifornia, New York, creative community development, resilient communities