March 19, 2024

Sunny Side Up: UNHP Brings Solar to the Bronx


In 2023/4 UNHP realized its long-held dream of bringing solar power to our multifamily affordable housing portfolio. Thanks to a new Federal refundable tax credit, competitive pricing, State and City programs as well as a bonus credit for use in low-income communities, solar technology has become more affordable and financially accessible. Seven UNHP multifamily buildings have installed solar photovoltaic arrays and UNHP hopes to add solar technology to another property by 2025. UNHP’s mission centers around creating, preserving, and improving affordable housing. Within that mission is another goal; to conserve energy and water and to retrofit affordable housing with renewable and clean energy sources. Our goals are both environmental and economic; reducing operating costs to preserve long-term affordability and our carbon footprint to make the Bronx a cleaner place to live.

UNHP has been able to install solar arrays on 7 of our affordable housing properties – achieving a long-held goal! The panels will provide the electricity to power our public area lighting, laundry rooms, community spaces, and the super’s apartment.

One of the primary drivers that made solar technology affordable now is the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The Act created direct payment incentives for tax-exempt nonprofits like UNHP. Instead of receiving tax breaks, nonprofits and other non-taxable organizations are incentivized through a fully refundable credit. The Act increased the existing credit from 15% to 30 % for qualifying investments in solar energy projects and added a further 10 – 20 % bonus credit for the use of solar technology in communities like the Bronx, where the tenants are low-income, the community is low-income, and the construction materials are purchased domestically. In addition to Federal incentives, the NYSERDA program, funded by the State, also targets low and moderate-income communities and was utilized in our solar projects. At the City level, we have benefitted from the Solar Electric Generating Systems Tax Abatement program which provided a credit that has reduced our property tax expense. UNHP explored the use of solar back in 2015 but the initial investment was too high and the payback period too long. Today’s increased benefits allow payback periods for UNHP projects to range between 1 – 4 years.

Working with a consultant, Crauderueff Solar, who specializes in owner’s representation for solar projects in affordable housing; solar array work scopes and financial plans were developed for each of the seven properties based on existing roof capability and size. Let’s look at two of the seven UNHP buildings that have installed solar technology.

The Wilton HDFC

The Wilton, before and after. The addition of solar panels is the most recent improvement to this once-foreclosed property, comprised of two buildings with one boiler.

Adding solar technology to The Wilton HDFC, a 32-unit multifamily building, is just the latest improvement under UNHP’s long history with the buildings dating back to the early 1990’s. The Wilton was one of the many buildings that were over-financed and later foreclosed on by Freddie Mac. Working over twenty years, UNHP, along with the tenants and our manager, Dougert Management Corp, has moved these buildings from two over-financed, foreclosed, and severely deteriorated rental buildings to decent affordable housing for low-income individuals and families. The building has many large units (3 and 4 bedrooms) to accommodate large families as well as commercial tenants.

Structural reinforcements, new windows, hallway flooring, exterior work, public lighting, painting, and secure mailboxes are among the work that has been completed since its purchase. The solar arrays will reduce ongoing operating costs to ensure the long-term affordability of this building.

The cost of the panels and installation was $66,784 at The Wilton and the solar arrays are currently producing 12.9 KWh of energy. The panels are designed to provide 110 % of usage needs in public areas to account for any future increases in energy consumption in the building, such as a new water heater or the like. The energy generated by the panels will cover the cost of all public area electricity including, public lighting, laundry room, community spaces, security camera, and the super’s apartment. Thanks to the low-income bonus from the Inflation Reduction Act, the State NYSERDA funding of $20,648, an additional $10,000 credit towards property tax bills from the City, and a reduction in electricity bills, The Wilton HDFC, will achieve payback on the cost of the solar technology in under two years! UNHP looks forward to tracking our cost and carbon savings over the next few years. Read more about the history of this building, its foreclosure, and renovation here. 

Garden Street HDFC

Garden Street HDFC, an 87-unit multifamily building located across the street from the Bronx Zoo, also has a history rooted in the Bronx story of rebirth. In the early 80s, Garden Street was abandoned by its owner who even took the boiler with him as he left! The building fell into City ownership and was run poorly until local organizing efforts and tenant leadership fought for repairs and renovation through a variety of programs including; Tenant Interim Lease (TIL) Program, the Private Owners and Management Program( POMP ), and the 8A Loan programs. In 1993, the building was purchased with UNHP oversight and since then has undergone significant renovations including the most recent interior and exterior upgrades completed in 2019 pictured in the collage below. The property is managed by the Sycamore Birch Management Corporation who have been instrumental in making this property a decent and safe place to live, and an important partner in bringing solar to the property.

Garden Street is the first UNHP property to put the solar array into commission. In December of 2023, we completed our solar installation on Garden Street, installing a 28.5 Kilo Watt Solar Panel Array which will produce 34,000 KWH annually, covering more than all of the house usage for hallways, superintendent’s unit, elevator, and lobby. The system cost is $107,000 and while we have covered the upfront costs, we have already received $34,188 from the State through NYSERDA, and an additional $8,100 from the City in the form of lower property tax bills. The property also received a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York thanks to its member, Apple Bank,  to retrofit sustainable energy for this building. We are grateful to Apple Bank and the FHLBNY program for making these funds available to support both affordability and environmental goals. The payback period for the solar work is 3.5 years for Garden Street. Reducing electrical costs through Solar power will channel savings back into the property to maintain habitability, preserve the long-term affordability of our buildings, and importantly reduce our carbon footprint for the benefit of our Bronx ( and global) community. Garden Street was a stop on our recent UNHP Board tour.  You can read more about the history of this building and our other work in this blog post.

Celebrate our solar achievements at our Here Comes the Sun Fundraiser on April 18th, 2024. Join us as a sponsor or attendee.  Tickets and sponsor form here.  Contact Cathy for tickets or to sponsor UNHP.

UNHP hopes to bring solar power to Rose Hill apartments by 2025 and include battery backup. Rosehill provides homes to 119 low-income senior citizens and the use of solar with backup power will keep elevators and medical equipment in use in the case of a blackout.