New York's Green Roof Tax Abatement Program: Next Steps

Updated: Jan 19

The recently renewed and revised Green Roof Tax Abatement program; while still not 100% where we want it to be, is an improvement and will serve as a great compliment to the other GI initiatives underway in NYC.

The ~39,680 acres of NYC rooftops pose a unique opportunity for getting us closer to our goal of "greening" 8,000 impervious acres in the combined sewer areas of the city by 2030.*

Before we review the next steps to get the recently revised program up and running, we want to provide some context and history for the program and SWIM's involvement with it since its inception in 2008. Below is a quick synopsis of the program's evolution and Here is a link to a detailed historical timeline of the program. And here is a link to a blog post we published when the program was renewed and revised in 2019 which provides all the details of the current program.

  • In 2007, SWIM Coalition organized green roof professionals, policy makers, environmental justice organizations and environmental groups to develop a shared vision for a Green Roof Tax Abatement program in New York City. Due to this coalition building, as well as significant research, analysis and work with elected officials, the NYC Green Roof Tax Abatement was originally passed in June 2008. Although the value ($4.50/sf) supported by the Bloomberg administration was lower than the value we recommended ($6.75/sf), the coalition supported this incentive to get the ball rolling.

  • When the GRTA program came up for its first renewal in 2013, SWIM provided a full body of research conducted by then SWIM program manager, Rob Crauderueff, in collaboration with Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and other experts and stakeholders.The research provided vital information about the true costs of installing a vegetated roof system in NYC and demonstrated that the abatement amount for the program needed to be higher and the program needed to be multi-year. Here is an article published by Rob in the 2013 Living Architecture Monitor on the research and the 2013 program. While the City still chose a lower abatement amount than we recommended, they extended the program through 2018 and made some significant improvements that we'd recommended.

  • In late 2018 when the program was set to expire, SWIM compiled and delivered a set of recommendations and updated research to the lawmakers in Albany who were sponsoring the renewal of the program.

  • In early 2019 we joined a GRTA stakeholder working group, coordinated by the Nature Conservancy, to inform the current iteration of the program.The stakeholder working group continues to meet and develop a set of recommended revisions that can improve the program further. We will release our next set of recommendations before the end of 2020.


The latest iteration of the green roof tax abatement includes a higher abatement amount for properties in priority zones of $15 per sq. foot and $5.23 per sq. foot in all other areas of the city.

Identifying the priority zones is the next step to getting the update abatement program up and running.

Green Roof contractors and property owners are waiting until they know if a roof they are planning to work on is in one of the priority zones before they begin the work. As the law for the abatement program states " an agency, appointed by the Mayor," will designate the priority zones.

After much back and forth, it has finally been determined that the Mayor's Office of Sustainability (MOS) will identify the priority zones. An Executive Order authorizing the MOS to begin a rule making process for selecting the priority zones is currently on Mayor De Blasio's desk awaiting his signature. The stakeholder working group for the tax abatement has sent a letter to the Mayor encouraging him to sign the order so the work can begin. It is our understanding that the MOS plans to initiate the rule making process for identifying the priority zones in November 2020.

Ideally, over the next decade, greening NYC's rooftops will be easier to accomplish now that we have two new green roof laws and an improved green roof tax abatement program. It will be very important to have a comprehensive inventory of:

  • all of the city’s rooftops: our friends at The Nature Conservancy have started the ball rolling with an initial inventory of rooftops in their recent Green Roof mapping report! ;

  • how many of the rooftops would be required, under the criteria of the new laws, to install either a vegetated or solar system or a combination of the two;

  • how many rooftop retrofits applications are typically submitted per year;

  • how many new buildings are slated to be built.

It will also be important to establish a clear monitoring system of the vegetated rooftops so that the benefits of each roof can be measured and documented.

The GRTA stakeholder working group will provide public testimony on the priority zone rule making when it comes up for a public hearing and we are also developing another set of recommendations for a few more revisions to the program that we hope lawmakers can insert into the law during their the next session. Stay tuned for more updates here and be sure to sign up for our monthly e-blasts.

*Under the current CSO consent order between the City and the State, the NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has mandated that NYC manage the 1st inch of rainfall on 10 % of the impervious surfaces (~8,000 acres) in the combined sewer area of the city with Green Infrastructure practices by 2030. SWIM was instrumental in encouraging the inclusion of GI solutions in the Consent Order.

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SWIM Coalition is sponsored by the NYC Soil & Water Conservation District and Riverkeeper, Inc. Your donations to SWIM's work are tax deductible under the IRS code170(c)3. 

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