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Affordable housing goes 'green'

Such homes may cost more to build, but cities are encouraging them for their long-term savings.

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It's an inside-out apartment house: The boiler is on the top floor, the insulation is outside the concrete walls, and the garden's going to be on the roof.

On New York's Lower East Side, this brick apartment house - still under construction - is one of a number of environmentally conscious and energy-efficient building projects.

It's also one of the more tangible manifestations of a trend taking off in cities across the country: the merging of affordable housing and "green" building. City officials and others are recognizing that energy-efficient buildings, while they may cost a bit more to build, are far more affordable than traditional housing in the truest sense of the word. They cost less to operate and live in, and they provide tenants with a healthier atmosphere that can save on healthcare costs.

This fall, when reviewing certain grant proposals, New York City will start giving developers who want to build affordable housing "extra points" if builders pledge to incorporate green building principles. At the same time, Chicago is offering housing developers and apartment-building owners incentives if they build "green roofs," which are essentially roof gardens that help both insulate buildings better and improve overall air quality. And in Los Angeles, city officials have incorporated green standards into parts of the city's building code.

In the past year, the Enterprise Foundation, a leading provider of capital and expertise for the development of affordable housing, has helped start 77 green developments in 21 states, which will create more than 4,300 environmentally efficient homes for low-income families.

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