Case Study: Green Amenities

By Erica Rasc├│n
Multi-Housing News Online, October 1, 2013

Remember when green living was considered a niche market? Today, its popularity has grown to include consumers who are interested in the health benefits of sustainable architecture in addition to the wellbeing of the planet. Related Companies has addressed this growing audience by creating properties that emphasize human wellness along with sustainability. The two go hand in hand.

This summer, Related Companies initiated a smoke-free ban on all of its residential properties. Though the move has gained ample media attention recently, Related began tackling the smoke-free housing issue four years ago. The company was not aiming to make headlines. The change was simply the next step in an organic process. Jeffrey Brodsky, president of Related Management explains, “We believe smoke-free housing is an enhancement to what we already offer to people who might be looking for an apartment. It’s associated with our brand’s commitment to sustainability and wellness; we talk a lot about wellness and recognize that indoor air quality is a critical factor in that.”

The value is three fold. Primarily, inhabitants can enjoy the health benefits of improved air quality. According to the EPA, indoor air pollution can lead to chronic headaches, fatigue, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and cancer. By creating a smoke-free environment, Related minimizes resident exposure to secondhand smoke and its associated risks such as asthma, respiratory tract infections, bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections.

Secondly, Related’s smoking ban may minimize conflict between residents which can lead to happier living quarters for everyone involved. “Not only can smoking be a health problem, but it can also affect the quality of life of our residents,” says Brodsky. “Smoke can migrate between apartments causing tension between neighbors,” he adds. “We consider ourselves to be a service-focused organization and we are acting proactively to mitigate potential problems rather than waiting to respond when they occur.”

Lastly, Related emerges once again as a leader and pacesetter in the industry. Smoking rates in New York City have decreased. Simultaneously, the demand for smoke-free housing is rising. Housing must accommodate these trends. Related’s smoke-free properties provide progressive renters with an entire portfolio of options.

The company’s complete residential portfolio is subject to the smoke-free ban, including new and existing properties. Related has maneuvered multiple challenges to reach that goal, including smoking tenants who are currently under contract and may be protected by New York City’s iron-clad rent stabilization program.

Within a few short years, all of Related’s leases will be in compliance with the smoke free policy, including rent stabilized housing that was previously thought to pose an issue. According to Brodsky, “Of the approximately 5,000 apartments in our portfolio that are rent stabilized, the smoking rate for that demographic is already in the low teens and we believe it will decrease by another 30 percent each year just from normal apartment turnover.”

The transition is worth the wait. The New York Adult Tobacco Survey states that 56 percent of respondents who live in multifamily housing support smoking bans. Related’s New York properties will be even more appealing than ever.

Health-conscious renters can also look forward to another development in Related’s pipeline. The Hudson Yards project, a much anticipated mixed-use development rising on the West Side, will host a myriad of features that promote wellness and resource conservation. Charlotte Matthews, vice president of sustainability, shared a few features that residents can expect.

Public spaces at Hudson Yards will be equipped with daylight harvesting, a system that conserves energy while creating a healthy connection between residents and the natural environment. Matthews explains, “The amenities and lobby will have daylight harvesting, where the lights automatically dim when there is sunlight so you don’t have too much artificial light.”

It’s similar to the Auto feature found on many automobile headlights. “There are two benefits: one is energy efficiency but more importantly, when you think about a place that is naturally sunlit but all of the artificial lights are on, you can’t see the dapple of the natural light. We want to make sure that residents can perceive the sunlight in space and benefit from it.” Studies suggest that exposure to natural light can minimize eyestrain, alleviate stress and depression, and increase productivity.

Though still in design, the developer has plans to install fan coil units with smart thermostats in some residential units and ultra-efficient hybrid heat pumps in others. Both systems will furnish residents with the option of heating or cooling year round, and smaller utility bills than conventional developer choices. “These systems are very energy efficient and transfer real cost savings to tenants,” Matthews says.

Hudson Yards will also take measures to protect residents in the wake of natural disasters. “We will have a lot of on-site power generation capability so in the event of another Sandy, should the utility grid go down, we will be able to feed all of the residential units with power,” explains Matthews. This could mean life-saving access to residents’ medical supplies, communication devices, as well as the often overlooked benefits of operable kitchens and laundry rooms. Matthews adds, “A portion of our power generation will be through tri-generation which is an energy efficient way to provide power year round, not just in emergencies.”

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