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  Sierra Magazine
  July/August 2008
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Sierra Magazine
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Comfort Zone: Smart Designs for Pleasure and Planet
Movin' On Up
By Chris Thompson
July/August 2008

It's not just low mortgage payments that enable waiter Jose Acevedo to afford a home in New York City while supporting a family of four. Morrisania Homes' energy efficiency gives him a break on utility bills he never thought possible. "I ask my friends, and they pay so much more than I pay," he says.

WHEN LES BLUESTONE SET OUT TO BUILD Morrisania Homes, the first green affordable-housing development in New York State, he envisioned an elegant collection of brick townhomes. When a tight budget wouldn't allow him to raise the ceilings the nine feet he needed to officially call them brownstones, Bluestone installed six-foot-high windows to give residents a sense of height. The tall windows bathe the rooms in sunlight, reducing the need for electric lights. And that, in turn, has helped keep some buyers' mortgage payments as low as $300 a month.

In a clever arrangement with home-loan underwriter Fannie Mae, part of every dollar Morrisania's buyers save on heating, water, and electricity is added to their income statements; the income boost helps residents qualify for lower interest rates. The argon-filled windows are just one of the features that reduce energy consumption by 30 percent compared with a traditional urban residence. Every electrical box and crevice in the walls is sealed to prevent heat from escaping, appliances are Energy Star models, and faucets flow at 20 percent the usual rate. Add the income from the upstairs rental unit that comes with each house, and families in this South Bronx neighborhood who never imagined themselves owning property in pricey New York City can afford a three-bedroom home with a backyard.

As Bluestone walks through the last three of his 76 units to go on the market, he pokes at a linoleum square that hasn't quite set right. "Gotta fix that," he mutters. He knows that buyers aren't as green obsessed as he is, so when they move in, he offers them a gift basket of environmentally friendly cleaners, just to plant a seed.

Ventilation systems protect residents from polluted city air. They're pricey, but "we're willing to leave some money on the table," says developer Les Bluestone.

Bluestone spent months teaching his suppliers and subcontractors how to build green. "There was a lot of 'Take that down, do it over again,'" he says.

ON THE WEB What's your idea of a green living or work space? Tell us at

Photos by Laurie E. Donald/Bernstein Associates; used with permission.

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