New York City’s Green Roof Tax Abatement Bill, signed by Governor Cuomo on July 3, increases the existing tax incentives for adding a green roof to new and existing buildings throughout the five boroughs.
When the program began in 2009, it offered a tax credit of $5.25 per converted square foot of roof. The reformed bill boosted the number to $15 in areas that need it most.
Comptroller Scott Stringer, who helped get the ball rolling on the bill, said this will help to combat climate change.
“For years we have failed to take advantage of a simple solution hiding in plain sight,” Stringer said. “We failed to look up.”
Stringer reported that only one in every 1,000 buildings throughout the city has a green roof, with there being 62 square miles on top of buildings available to be converted.
Among the benefits of having a green roof, the effect on stormwater surges was the one most referenced during the celebration.
Stringer called green roofs “the first line of defense in climate change,” and said they can reduce stormwater by up to 50 percent.
When rainstorms shower the city, the rainwater runs off roofs, swells the sewer system, and pours into waterways. The surges often carry sewage, which dumps into waterways like Flushing Bay, which is heavily polluted and non-swimmable.
“We will go swimming in Flushing Bay one day,” said State Senator John Liu, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “It’s just a question of how quickly we can get it done.
“I know it seems, for lack of a better word, disgusting, right now, but if you asked anybody 20 years ago if people would be swimming in the Hudson River, they would have looked at you like you had a few screws loose,” Liu added, noting that he swam in the Hudson last summer. “If we could do it in the Hudson, why can’t we do it in Flushing Bay?”
Assemblywoman Nily Rozic praised the bill for being a part of a “comprehensive green infrastructure effort that New York City has taken to prevent climate change.”
It needed to be amended, Rozic said, because of the conversion expenses that have been “prohibitive to building owners.”
She explained that in 2017, only seven property owners participated in the program. With the increased tax credit, she is hopeful that number will increase sevenfold.
Queens is one of the boroughs that has an especially low number of green roofs. The Nature Conservancy reported that all of New York had just 730 green roofs across its one million plus buildings. Queens has just 49, less than 7 percent of the total city count.
“We wanted to come here to Queens because the simple fact is there isn’t a real plan or enough green roofs on so many of our buildings and our homes, and we want to change that,” Stringer said.
“The thing about the roofs in Queens is that most of them are not obstructed,” Liu said. “Whereas in Manhattan, a lot of them get obstructed in the canyons. The taller buildings block the shorter buildings. In Queens, the rooftops are wide open to the sun and the rain.”
What more could Queens do to reduce its contribution to climate change?
“Where do we begin? There’s a whole big list,” Liu replied. “In addition to these tax incentives, we have built combined sewer overflow tanks, like the one right here in Flushing Meadow Park. More and more people are getting on their bikes and using alternative means of transportation.” Both Liu and Rozic rode bikes to the conference.
“We are cleaning up the green spaces and the waterways,” Liu said. “So land, air, and water, we got it all covered. But we need to do more, and we need to do more faster.”
Korin Tangtrakul of SWIM Coalition wanted residents to know that “green roofs are really a great investment for properties because they’re not only helping with the [sewage overflow] issue, but they’re also helping insulate their homes or businesses, which will help energy needs.
“It helps cools neighborhoods; it helps cool the building,” Tangtraku added. ”There’s a lot more benefits to a green roof than stormwater management.”
Additional efforts that the borough could do to alleviate stormwater benefits, Tangtrakul said, is adding rain gardens on the sidewalks.
“Any of those little rain gardens you see in the street, [they] help to reduce flow also adding vegetation to our cities,” Tangtrakul said. “The borough of Queens could really help in promoting that to their communities because I think a lot of people don't really know what they are.”
Rebecca Pryor, of Riverkeeper and Guardians of Flushing Bay, noted that there are larger sidewalk spaces in the borough that is going unused as potential rain gardens.
“Queens could be leading that and isn’t, honestly,” she said. “Sorry, Queens. I love you.”