Green Roofs Failing to Sprout on City’s Co-ops and Condos
end of 2019, city and state leaders increased incentives for building owners who roofs green by installing gardens. Since then, according to the Ministry of Buildings, up to and including April, exactly 11 buildings have applied for property tax, Crain’s reports. That’s 11 requests, no approvals. Why the anemic reaction?
“I wouldn’t call this program an incentive,” says Alan Burchell, founder of roof renovation specialist urban strong. “It hardly stimulates anything.”
The cost of retrofitting a brownstone or townhouse building with a relatively small roof starts at $65 per square foot, says Burchell, and can easily go further $90 per square meter. Therefore, the typical tax refund of $5.23 per square foot is not enough to move the needle. Nor is the relatively generous $15 per square meter in parts of the city where heat islands are serious.
“The incentive makes more sense for buildings with large roofs,” Burchell says, adding that such buildings make up “a relatively small number” of residential buildings.
The benefits of green roofs are countless. they absorb rainwater and keep the city overloaded sewer system from floods; they extend the life of roofs; they absorb heat and reduce the cost of refrigeration buildings; they are beautiful. Despite the discouraging economy, new buildings and buildings undergoing total roof replacement are now required, including Local Law 92-94, for installing solar panels or a green roof, or a combination of both.
There is good news. Another financing option is a Property Rated Clean Energy (PACE) loan, a new program that kicked off this week when a $89 million PACE loan closed in a Wall Street office tower. With PACE loans, building owners, including co-op boards, can save up to 100% of the cost of energy-saving adjustments. Unlike conventional financing, long-term PACE loans are repaid in installments through a charge on the property subject tax bill over the life of the retrofit, which can be 20 to 25 years. The size of the loans is aligned with the expected savings in energy costs, so that building owners can start making savings from day one, without having to commit upfront funding. In fact, the renovation pays for itself.
There is also some confusion that hinders the development of green roofs. “The city’s web pages about the green roofs program should be simpler and clearer,” says Emily Maxwell, director of the Nature conservationthe city program. The city, she adds, should lead the way by greening roofs on public buildings. That would draw more consultants and contractors to the arena, she says, and give New Yorkers a better chance to experience the benefits of green roofs.
Ultimately, it comes down to convincing the government that the benefits of the renovation projects exceed the start-up costs. The Nature Conservancy says it will ask the state legislature to boost tax incentives next year. “I commend the city and the state for improving the program,” says Maxwell. “Let’s continue the improvement.”