New York State lawmakers recently passed legislation that renews and revises the State’s current Green Roof Tax Abatement. The law became effective on July 1, 2019 but details of the abatement program (such as priority community districts) must be clarified before property owners can fully participate. Here is a link to the bill on the NY Senate website.
The new bill has a higher abatement amount (of $15 per sq foot) for rooftops located in areas around the City that are deemed priority areas by an agency designated by the Mayor. The legislation does not limit the number of areas that can be identified as priority zones but are selected on a rolling basis over a period of three years.
It is important to note that: while $15 per square foot is higher than the current program amount ($5.23), actual costs to install a green roof in NYC are higher than $15. From a recent survey conducted by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, the low end of the cost for extensive (shallow) green roofs averages around $26. For intensive green roofs, the per square foot cost can be more than $100. Many thanks to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities for circulating this vital information! The survey results have been very helpful in supporting our call for a higher abatement amount.
The NYC City Council passed a new law: Intro 1032 (as part of the City Council Climate Mobilization Act) this spring which will require certain building types across the City to install vegetated roof systems, small scale wind turbines, solar voltaic systems or some combination of the three. When this law goes into effect, the green roof tax abatement and other incentive programs need to be in place and ready to deploy so that vegetated roofs have a better chance of getting installed. The renewal and revision of the Green Roof Tax Abatement is a significant step forward but we're not quite there yet with the full suite of tools required to truly move the dial and reap the many benefits that green roofs can provide in New York City.
There are several items in the new version of the green roof tax abatement that green roof advocates are concerned about. Without some adjustments over the next few years, the abatement may not be attractive enough for property owners to take advantage of the program. SWIM and our colleagues will continue to work with elected officials and stakeholders to get the necessary revisions in place over the next few years. Below is a breakdown on the revisions in the new bill, issues of concern, and what is needed to ensure that the program is optimized for widespread use:
The abatement program continues
A tiered system of abatement that focuses incentives where green roofs are most needed
There is a higher abatement amount of $15 per square foot for high priority areas
High priority areas are to be selected with environmental justice concerns as well as stormwater and other environmental concerns
No limit to the number of high priority areas that can be selected by the City
The abatement can now be applied over multiple years if the amount of abatement exceeds the per-property maximum of $200,000
Issues of Concern
The abatement amount in the non-priority areas remains $5.23 - not enough to spur green roof installations
The high priority areas can only be selected on a rolling basis over a three year period
There is a minimum 4” soil depth requirement for the high priority areas
There is an aggregate cap of $1 million per year for the whole program, to be allocated proportionately (“pro rata basis”) to all applicants
A minimum $15 per square foot everywhere with a higher amount in priority areas
An aggregate cap of $5 million initially and $10 million in the future
2” minimum soil depth for all projects, regardless of location
In addition to the property tax abatement improvements, there must be a full array of education and information tools available to property owners about vegetated roof systems, other incentive programs, a clear and unencumbered application process, and a comprehensive list of certified green roof professionals readily available and easily contacted (such as a citywide clearing house). The green roof industry needs to be modeled on the incentive programs for the wind and solar industries so that the many benefits of vegetated rooftops can be fully deployed in NYC.
The environmental, economic, and social benefits of green roofs are measurable, they cut greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, increase energy efficiency, act as an economic stimulus by creating living wage green-collar jobs, and reduce sewer system overflows that pollute our waterways. According to Paul Mankiewicz, Executive Director of Gaia Institute and SWIM Coalition steering committee member, “each 10,000-sq-ft green roof can capture between 6,000 and 12,000 gallons of water in each storm event. Every gallon of rain captured aboveground is crucial to reducing pollution caused by raw sewage discharges from the City’s overburdened sewer system.”
It will be very important to have a comprehensive inventory of the City’s rooftops to see how many are eligible for the installation of vegetated systems, how many rooftop retrofits applications are submitted per year, how many new buildings are slated to be built each year, a clear monitoring system of the vegetated rooftops so that the benefits of each roof can be measured and documented; in other words rules and regulations for this burgeoning industry modeled on those already in place for the wind and solar industries. The passage of Intro 1032 by the NYC City Council sets this effort in motion. The Green Roof Tax Abatement renewal provides support for the installation of green roofs on private property, other incentive plans in the works at NYC DEP will further support for the implementation of this vital climate adaptation tool.
SWIM and our many colleagues will continue to advocate for the necessary improvements to the tax abatement program as outlined above, and to inform, educate, and empower the public and elected officials with the tools they need to ensure that New York's under utilized rooftops can become vital assets in our effort to make NYC more livable for many generations to come.