Windmills and sun power Melrose buildings

Windmills help generate electricity for the the Eltona, an affordable housing complex in Melrose.

If wind huffs and puffs it will blow electric bill down

From blocks away, you can spot 10 white windmills whirling atop the five-story brick building on East 156th Street. The wind-powered turbines help generate clean electricity for the 63 rental apartments inside.

This is the new, green, look of affordable housing, and Melrose is leading the way.

Called the Eltona, the building is the latest addition to housing for low-income families in the neighborhood. Its state-of-the art, energy efficient features are what you might expect to find in the trendy apartments of Williamsburg or SoHo.

“When you speak of green roofs, when you speak of sustainability, when you speak of green structures, we’re number one,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., boasted at the building’s ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 27.

The Eltona is the first affordable housing development in New York City to qualify for the highest rating a green building can get, called LEED Platinum. The Bronx itself is home to 86 percent of the LEED certified-for-home units in the state, according to Les Bluestone, president of Blue Sea Development, the Eltona’s developer.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification system developed by the United States Green Building Council to rate how environmentally friendly a building is. Platinum is the highest a building can achieve, followed by gold, silver, and just plain LEED-certified.

The Eltona offers one-, two- and three-bedroom rental units for $782, $943 and $1,089 a month, respectively. Eligibility is determined by family size and income. A family of four must earn no more than $46,080.

Blue Sea has received more than 2,400 applications, according to Bluestone, and about 20 leases have been signed so far.

Twenty-three-year-old Tia Smith and her two-year-old daughter were among the first residents to settle into the Eltona. Smith was on the verge of eviction a few months ago after the rent in her last apartment was raised to $1,300 a month.

The Eltona is one of several environmentally friendly, affordable buildings in Melrose Commons.

The Eltona is one of several environmentally friendly, affordable buildings in Melrose Commons.

“I didn’t know where I was going four months ago, where I was going to live,” Smith said. “Now I know I have a place to come home to.”

Smith and other Eltona residents will also serve as the subjects of an environmental study by Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. The study will monitor the effects of living in a green building on health.

In addition, no smoking is permitted anywhere in the building, and health authorities hope that will have an impact on asthma symptoms in a neighborhood where asthma is epidemic.

The Eltona isn’t the only or first building in the neighborhood to go green. Melrose Commons, as this area of redeveloped housing units is known, is also home to Sunflower Way on East 158th St between Melrose and Elton Avenues. Completed in 2002, the 30 three-family homes were the first affordable housing to qualify for an Energy Star label through the use of energy efficient appliances, heating and water systems.

In 2007, Blue Sea Development built the nearby Morrisania Homes, the first affordable housing units in the state to receive any kind of LEED certification.

Construction of a LEED Silver building is nearing completion on East 158th Street. The Jardin de Selene, as the building is called, stands 12-stories high, one of the tallest structures in Melrose Commons.

The building used recycled materials during construction, has bamboo floors and counter tops and solar cells on its roof that will generate about three percent of the building’s annual electricity needs.

But no other housing is quite like the Eltona. Its residents will also be eligible to receive on-site job training from Wildcat Service Corporation, a New York nonprofit.

And then there are those rooftop windmills.

The windmills are an experiment, Bluestone says. Blue Sea is still trying to determine whether or not the turbines are worthwhile, since their efficiency depends on how strong the winds are in a given day and location. (The Eltona also has an electricity source in the building’s basement that works with the turbines.)

“Between the two of them, if it happens to be a windy day, then we could be providing about 90 percent of the building’s electricity,” Bluestone said, “but the wind would have to be steady.

“The jury is still out on whether it’s practical in that location,” he continued.

A version of this story appeared in the Winter 2009 edition of the Mott Haven Herald.