A New York City church has taken an active role in bringing a passive solution to Brooklyn housing needs.
Iglesia Menonita Unida De Avivamienta (United Revival Mennonite Church) is co-owner of the first U.S. apartment complex built to strict “passive house” environmental efficiency standards. The $8.5 million building has 24 units and is designed to use about 10 percent of the energy similar structures would utilize.
Developed in the 1990s in Germany, passive design is based on extensive “superinsulation” — solar orientation of windows and roofs, natural ventilation and utilization of heat exchangers in place of forced-air heating and cooling systems. “Waste heat” from lighting, appliances and even people is collected for its energy, often making a conventional heating system unnecessary.
In 2010, The New York Times reported there were roughly 25,000 certified structures in Europe, compared to 13 in the U.S.
United Revival associate and youth pastor Moises Angustia said the church wasn’t aware of the construction style when it shared its mission statement and vision for the community with developers three or four years ago.
“We want something for the community, but we don’t want to damage the community by allowing more pollution in the air and more cost,” he said. “So when the architect found out we wanted to do something more energy-efficient, they just went with the idea.”
The complex, called “The Mennonite,” sits on four of 12 lots Angustia’s father, senior pastor Nicolas Angustia, bought at auction in 1998. Construction was completed in February, and tenants have been moving in. A new United Revival church building on the other lots will be completed in July.
“People bidding on the lots wanted to do a liquor shop or an adult store,” Moises Angustia said. “When my dad raised his hand and said ‘I want to do a church in a community space,’ they said ‘sold.’ ”
A leap of faith
The Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council partnered with United Revival on the project, financing it through a federal tax credit, New York’s Housing Trust Fund, bank loans and funding from the city council.
“In terms of construction costs, this building was built at zero premium,” said Ridgewood Bushwick housing director Scott Short. “While some components are more expensive, like the amount of insulation, the windows and the energy-recovery units, you save on those with the heating plant.
“We have two tiny water boilers that replace what would be four much larger units. The pipes are smaller, which saves money.”
Thermal solar panels on the roof ease the load on those boilers, which serve the entire 28,000-square-foot complex. Triple-pane windows and vines creeping over the building will keep the building warm or cool.
“It was a unique process,” Angustia said. “Even selecting the walls, the spreading of the concrete, choosing the windows — it was all a big process because we were aiming to meet that goal of an efficient building.”
Short said the church was a great partner from the start.
“They were really open to the passive house concept, which was sort of a leap of faith at the time we were proposing it,” he said. “It really hadn’t been tested or proven in the New York market, but we felt it was an important step to take, especially for affordable housing.”
Serving the community
United Revival has been intentional about serving its Bushwick neighborhood. It began an immigration office that now partners with Mennonite Central Committee. Affordable housing is in the same vein.
Not counting the apartment reserved for the building superintendent, 15 units are set aside for families with disabilities, and all are reserved for tenants making less than 30 percent to 60 percent of New York City’s median income. Though the church knew of the need, the lottery process for potential tenants surprised the congregation.
“I think it was over 5,000 applicants. It was crazy,” Angustia said. “We didn’t expect this . . . but this is probably going to open the doorway to other builders who want to do the same. I think we’ll be watched to see the actual savings.”
Subsidized housing is valuable for families living in poverty, and passive house design increases the value.
Angustia said one family recently learned one of their children is slowly going blind.
“One of the biggest issues this family had was the utilities,” he said. “Now [the mother] doesn’t necessarily have to worry about the electricity bill, and she’ll save with other areas. We are very happy with who is going into the building.”
The church hopes to connect with the apartment residents.
“It’s a potential community to which we can outreach, definitely, and we’re looking forward to that because we do a lot of that here in Brooklyn,” Angustia said. “We urban churches, most of our members come to us by us reaching out.”
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