Blue Sea Development’s latest project in the South Bronx goes above and beyond just providing affordable housing.
Arbor House not only provides 124 units of energy-efficient housing for residents earning 60 percent or less of the area median income, but it also offers a healthier lifestyle.
“If you took this building and moved it 10 miles south to the heart of Manhattan, it would be a luxury building,” says Les Bluestone, principal of Blue Sea Development. “It’s a nice feeling that you’re giving this to a population that can afford it least and maybe needs it most.”
A hydroponic farm sits on the roof of the eight-story building. Bluestone says his wife saw a story about a demonstration greenhouse on a barge and thought if you could farm on a barge, why not on a rooftop in an urban setting. It made sense since there isn’t a lot of fresh produce available near where the building is located, adds Bluestone.
The farm is being operated by Boston-based Sky Vegetables, and 40 percent of the produce will be made available to the community for residents, schools, hospitals, and markets. The initial plan is to grow leaf crops, such as kale, lettuce, and some herbs, with other vegetables to follow. It will be irrigated by the property’s rainwater harvesting system.
The building, which has earned LEED-Platinum, Energy Star, and National Green Building Gold ratings, was designed to meet New York City’s Active Design Guidelines to promote physical fitness and reduce obesity of the residents. It includes a fully equipped gym, and a physical trainer will come in to offer classes and teach the residents how to use the equipment. Stair usage also will be encouraged.
Indoor air quality was another priority in the building design. The developer used formaldehyde-free insulation; low- and zero-VOC paints, sealants, adhesives, and finishes; low-VOC vinyl wall covering; and continuous background direct exhaust ventilation using Energy Star fans, constant air regulators, and trickle vents in each apartment. The property is smoke-free, earning recognition from the American Cancer Society as a “Healthy High-Rise.”
Because of the health qualities of the building, Blue Sea is partnering for the second time with Mount Sinai Hospital for a study on the effects of healthy living on asthma and obesity.
Blue Sea Development also is introducing new energy-efficient features hoping to make a difference on residents’ utility bills. In addition to its usual energy-efficiency features like Energy Star appliances and lighting, high-efficiency boilers, and airtight building envelope, it has included energy-monitoring systems in every unit to provide real-time energy usage feedback.
“This monitor will allow people to turn appliances on and off and see what’s costing them,” Bluestone says. “We think it will probably be watched as much as the TV, at least for the person paying the bill.”
Each room also features Nest learning self-programmable thermostats with occupancy sensors as well as USB outlets for charging electronics that turn the power off when not connected.
Bluestone credits the city and state for bringing the project to fruition.
“For affordable housing or mixed-income housing, there’s no better place to do it than New York City,” he says. “The expression ‘put your money where your mouth is,’ New York really gets it.”
Arbor House was constructed on land within the Forest Houses complex in the Morrisania section of the Bronx that Blue Sea Development purchased at below-market value from the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). In exchange for the land price reduction, 25 percent of the units are set aside for NYCHA residents. Another 25 percent of the units are for residents in the immediate community, with 5 percent for disabled residents and 5 percent for municipal employees. At press time, the units were about 50 percent leased, and residents were expected to start moving in mid-March.
The $37.7 million development was financed with $3.9 million in tax-exempt bonds from the New York City Housing Development Corp. (HDC) and $12.8 million in low-income housing tax credit equity. RBC Capital Markets acted as the syndicator, and JPMorgan Capital Corp. was the investor.
It received additional financing from city and state sources, including $8 million in corporate subsidy from HDC; $7.4 million from the New York City Department Housing Preservation and Development; $2.5 million from New York State Homes and Community Renewal’s Homes for Working Families program; nearly $2 million in Reso A funds from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and City Council Member Helen Foster; and $160,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.