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Now that Nereida Figueroa and her 3 year-old son live in a new apartment in the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx, little Jeremiah no longer suffers constant asthma attacks.

“We used to live in one of the worst buildings in the Bronx. My kids were afraid to leave the apartment,” and her son’s health suffered, said Figueroa, 48. “Now we have a cleaner environment and everyone has their own space.”

She and her two children now reside in the nation’s first multi-family high-rise apartment building to qualify for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star label. An Energy Star building consumes 20 percent less energy than the typical building.

Developers, residents and financiers looked on as the ribbon on the new building at 1212 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. was cut Thursday, marking the completion of the 18-month, $10.2 million project by co-developers Dunn Development Corp. and nonprofit Beulah Housing Development Fund Company.

According to EPA Energy Star Program Manager David Lee, this pilot project is expected to lead to a new trend in low-income housing development.

“Buildings this height, four to six levels high will become more energy efficient. Builders and owners are becoming more and more aware of this ‘green’ movement,” Lee said.

According to Dunn Development President Martin Dunn, features such as additional roof insulation, a sealed-combustion condensing boiler and mold-resistant glass-faced Sheetrock walls reduce heat-loss and keep air clean and ventilated. Energy-saving light fixtures, insulated refrigerators, elevators with small motors and motion sensor hallway and stairwell lights reduce the use of electricity. Low-pressure showerheads and faucets reduce water use.

Energy Star services are more expensive to install, but result in long-term savings, said Walter Blenman, executive director of Beulah HDFC. Lower levels of energy consumption mean lower utility bills. To be eligible, tenants must use no public assistance other than food stamps; earn no more than $35,450, or 50 percent of the Area Median Income, for a family of four; or have lived in a homeless shelter for at least three months prior to screening, according to Dunn Development associate Ben Kornfeind.

Studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments make up the building’s 54 units. Of those, 17 are reserved for formerly homeless families, 10 studio apartments are for people with mild developmental disabilities, and the rest are for low-income families. More than half are already occupied, and the other tenants are on their way in. A portion of the units were reserved for neighborhood residents.

The state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the Community Preservation Corporation and Richman Housing Resources funded the entire project.

“Affordable housing doesn’t have to be cheap or unattractive. Good design is perfectly possible and appropriate,” said HPD spokesman Neill Coleman.

Several residents showed off their spacious, modern apartments. The two- and three-bedroom apartments have homework areas for children. Outside, a play area sits adjacent to a landscaped backyard commons.

Of her old building, Figueroa said, “My children were too afraid to leave the apartment. I’m so overwhelmed now. This is a luxury.”

The completion of the project marks Dunn Development’s third affordable and supportive housing effort. Their next apartment is set for completion in March 2007 and will be located in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. [10/02/06]

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