Brooklyn Boro

State doubles down on efforts to create more green roofs

July 11, 2019 Jeffery Harrell
The sun sets behind the Brooklyn Grange's green roof. © Brooklyn Grange

State legislators have voted to increase tax breaks for building owners who choose to implement “green roofs,” roofs covered by trees and vegetation.

According to the city’s Comptroller’s Office, only seven roofs in the city have taken advantage of the tax abatement since its creation a decade ago. Only one in every 1,000 buildings in New York City have green roofs.

The new law, sponsored by State Sen. John Liu and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, aims to change that.

Advocates argue that green roofs not only provide green spaces in neighborhoods tight on square mileage, but also help alleviate storm run-off during rain storms.

“New York City should be at the forefront of urban sustainability and green innovation,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement. “Our barren roofs offer an ideal opportunity to improve air quality, reduce energy use, ease storm related flooding, and increase the amount of green spaces in communities that need it the most.”

The new law triples the tax break from $5.23 per square foot of green space to $15 in community districts prone to sewer overflows during rainstorms and lacking in green spaces. It also extends the already existing tax abatement until 2024.

The law builds on the momentum started by local City Councilmembers Stephen Levin and Rafael Espinal, who sponsored a package of bills passed by the City Council as part of a larger package of legislation providing tax incentives for certain buildings, as long as a minimum of half of their roof expanse is covered with installations like greenery, solar panels or small wind turbines.

Levin was also the sponsor of a resolution passed by the council calling on the state to expand the green roofs tax abatement, to ease the transition for building owners.

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“We want to expand the program citywide, so the program has to be financeable,” said Elizabeth Adams, the legislative director for Councilmember Levin. “The abatement needs to be available and accessible.”

“Without proper incentives for building owners, we can’t achieve our goal of a sustainable city,” Adams continued. “We’re happy that Albany picked up where we left off and increased the tax abatement.”

Green roofs have also been found to reduce the  “urban heat-island effect,” cooling communities where heat is trapped in concrete and asphalt. Cities can sometimes be as much as five degrees hotter than rural counterparts, which drives air pollution, heat-related deaths and increased air conditioning costs.

As the effects of the climate crisis hit New York, summers promise to get hotter. Green roofs are also a part of the city’s NYC Cool Roofs initiative, which has also sent city workers to paint more than 9.2 million square feet of roofs white to reflect the sun and cool the city down.

“Business should see the government as a support system to help them implement these sustainable practices,” said Adams.

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