Workforce Housing Group solar deal will also pay for broadband

Project at 24 affordable Brooklyn buildings involves Morgan Stanley, Green Bank

611 St. Johns Place, Brooklyn, NY (Getty)
611 St. Johns Place, Brooklyn, NY (Google Maps, Getty)

An affordable housing developer will use solar energy savings to provide free Wi-Fi for tenants in 22 buildings in Brooklyn.

New York-based Workforce Housing Group secured a $500,000, low-interest loan from New York Green Bank to install solar panels on 18 of its buildings in Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York. The New York State Housing Finance Agency worked with New York Green Bank to finance the $736,000 solar arrays.

The utility bill savings are expected to cover repayment of the loan and four years of free Wi-Fi for tenants in 22 of its Brooklyn buildings.

“We think this is the way of the future,” said John Crotty, principal at Workforce Housing Group. “With the Green Bank loan, in New York City a large majority of affordable developers can put solar on all their roofs very quickly.”

The Green Bank, a division of NYSERDA, fills in gaps in the private lending market to fund clean-energy projects. The bank recently made a $150 million commitment to finance green affordable housing projects, which are not always able to get funding from traditional lenders.

Workforce Housing Group’s buildings are smaller than 25,000 square feet and thus not subject to the city’s carbon emissions caps. But the solar panels will provide clean energy and reduce operating costs for the buildings.

Here Comes Solar, a subsidiary of the nonprofit Solar One that partners with affordable housing providers and property owners on solar projects, estimates that the rooftop panels will save Workforce Housing Group $48,000 in utility costs in its first year and $1.2 million over 20 years.

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“If more building owners put solar on the rooftop and offset their own operating expenses, that’s going to do a lot both in terms of addressing the big picture issue of carbon emissions and the city’s objectives,” said Noah Ginsburg, director at Here Comes Solar. “It’s also going to… increase the profitability of their buildings.”

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Solar panels do not provide enough electricity to entirely power dense multifamily buildings in New York City, given the limited roof space relative to the number of residents. But they do eventually pay for themselves and provide free electricity after that. In the case of the 18 Workforce buildings getting panels, solar power will offset two-thirds of owner-paid electricity in common areas, not inside tenant apartments, Ginsburg said.

Workforce Housing Group received a loan from Morgan Stanley to refinance the 22 buildings and cover upfront costs of the broadband, which will come from Flume, a fiber internet service provider. Speeds will range from 200 Mbps to 940 Mbps.

Flume was launched in 2020 by Prashanth Vijay and Brandon Gibson, a managing director at the real estate investment asset management and development company Steinbridge Group.

The buildings are part of Workforce’s Brooklyn Restoration plan, a 24-building affordable housing preservation project, which is collaborating with the Housing Finance Agency to ensure that they remain affordable for the next 35 years.

It will also implement a $21 million rehabilitation of all 22 buildings plus two others. Green energy improvements will include new boilers, LED lights, heat pumps, exhaust fans and plumbing fixtures.

Crotty said he will put solar on other buildings in his portfolio. “We’re looking to implement it everywhere,” he said, “because we’d like to be as green as we possibly can.”