Blue Sea Development

General Colin L. Powell Apartments, Bronx, New York

The General Colin L. Powell Apartments complex has revitalized the once vacant and boarded up Fox Street in New York City’s South Bronx neighborhood. Named in honor of retired general Colin L. Powell, the 50-unit complex was built by Blue Sea Development in Powell’s childhood neighborhood, just three blocks from the house in which the former Secretary of State was raised.

“I was honored and humbled to have the General Colin L. Powell Apartments building named for me,” said Powell. “A joint project of Habitat for Humanity and Blue Sea Development Company, this building is one of the greenest affordable multifamily residences in New York, with a LEED Platinum rating.”

The project has brought new, affordable homeownership opportunities to the community for the first time in nearly 40 years, and was made possible through a pioneering partnership between Blue Sea Development, Habitat for Humanity, and the state of New York.

“We’re fortunate that we work in New York City, I have to tell you,” said Les Bluestone, a partner at Blue Sea Development, “because I don’t think there is another municipality in the country that does more to promote affordable housing in various shapes and forms than New York City does.”

This project marks the first time a local Habitat for Humanity affiliate has collaborated with a for-profit affordable housing developer. Bluestone, the former chair of the board of directors for Habitat-NYC (he’s no longer affiliated with the organization), was instrumental in developing the partnership. He said that when he was with the organization he had wanted to try this type of partnership. “Now that I was conflict-free,” said Bluestone, “I figured why don’t we try it here? I’m willing to give it a shot, wearing my other hat, so we brought [Habitat-NYC] in pretty much at the beginning.”

Habitat-NYC helped construct eight units for Habitat-NYC families, who earn between 50 and 80 percent of the city’s median income, and who contribute “sweat equity” (such as painting, caulking, and air sealing) to help build their homes.

Blue Sea built the seven-story structure, incorporating a plethora of energy-efficient measures, including high-efficiency condensing boilers and a 10-kilowatt combined heat and power cogeneration system that provides domestic hot water while recapturing waste heat. These features, combined with Energy Star appliances, windows, and light fixtures; a green roof; and a well-insulated, airtight shell, helped earn the building a LEED Platinum rating. At the time of its completion in 2010, it was the greenest affordable housing development in New York state.

Energy efficiency is crucial to homeowners in the complex, who save an estimated 30 percent or more on their utility bills. “In our income group, if a family can save $1,000 a year off their utility bill, that’s real money,” said Bluestone. “To families at these levels of income, that can make a difference in how their kids are clothed, or fed. How their physical [and] medical attention is taken care of. It’s real dollars.”

“Energy efficiency measures in multifamily buildings not only present the opportunity to reduce energy costs but improve building performance and provide a healthier more comfortable environment for residents,” said Francis J. Murray Jr., President and CEO, NYSERDA. “NYSERDA is pleased to have had the opportunity to ensure that as construction began on the General Colin L. Powell Apartments, energy efficiency standards were incorporated into the building design and construction from the start of the project.”

Bluestone stressed how important ownership buildings like the General Colin L. Powell Apartments are to revitalizing neighborhoods. And he credited New York City for making it happen. “It’s all because the city figured out the formula for developing private-public partnerships and putting their money where their mouth was.