In a New York City neighborhood known for an exceptionally high rate of asthma due in part to poor indoor air quality, a new multifamily development will help its low-income residents breathe easier.

The Melody, a 63-unit LEED-Platinum co-operative housing complex in the South Bronx, will help residents enjoy healthier lives while providing them with an energy-efficient, affordable place to call home. The eight-story building offers many ways for tenants to stay fit, including an on-site gym, an outdoor fitness circuit, children’s play areas, and indoor storage for bikes. In addition, the homeowner’s manual directs tenants to the neighborhood’s plentiful bike trails, community gardens, and parks. The fitness-oriented measures were substantial enough to earn the project a LEED Innovation point for Active Design, a first for a multifamily project. The Melody was verified by consulting firm Steven Winter Associates.

But the developers didn’t stop with the obvious enticements for physical activity. They implemented suggestions from New York City’s new Active Design Guidelines to identify discreet ways of promoting physical activity, starting with incentives for using the stairs instead of the elevator. Unlike most multifamily residences in New York City, the Melody’s stairwells are wide and bright and feature artwork and music. In contrast, the building’s one elevator run more slowly than average, has no music, and is not as prominently placed as the stairs.

“On each floor, everyone has to walk past the stairs to get to the elevator, so really the stairs are always your first option,” says Les Bluestone, a partner with New York City-based Blue Sea Development. “We tried to make it as effortless as possible to choose walking.”

With a disproportionate number of low-income Americans battling obesity and weight-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, the stakes are especially high for residents of the South Bronx, one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. Families there are stricken by asthma eight times more than the national average, and researchers have pointed to poor indoor air quality and crowded living conditions as leading causes.

To ensure healthy air quality at the Melody, Bluestone and architect Hugo Subotovsky did away with the common vertical ducts found in most multifamily buildings. Instead, each unit is fully air sealed and contains a continuous background ventilation system with Panasonic inline fans that run 24 hours a day and are connected to the bathrooms and kitchen. Islandaire PTAC units in every room provide hydronic heating; the units are filtered to MERV-8 and vent directly to the outdoors.

To avoid conditions that can cause or exacerbate asthma, project planners speced products that won’t detract from indoor air quality, such as low-VOC paints, adhesives, and cabinets; tile floors in the bathrooms and kitchens; and carpet tiles in the public corridors.

The project’s list of green building products and materials is rounded out by Pella low-E fiberglass-framed windows with argon gas fill (0.30 U-value), Sterling dual-flush toilets, low-flow faucets and showerheads, recycled drywall, and FSC-certified Paratimber engineered wood floors in the living areas.

With prices ranging from $104,000 to $220,000 for one- to three-bedroom apartments, the Melody is open to families with incomes between $35,000 and $90,000. Residents will own their units as part of a proprietary leasing arrangement and will also be responsible for monthly utility and maintenance charges, which vary depending on the apartment’s size and range from $364 to $651.

Named the Melody to reflect the neighborhood’s rich jazz history, the building borders the Longwood historic district and sits one block from a subway stop. The former brownfield site was vacant for more than 30 years but is now part of a larger effort to revitalize the South Bronx, home to the recently refurbished and expanded Yankee Stadium.  
New tenants of the Melody, the first co-op built in the neighborhood in decades, are thrilled to have a place to call home that is also sustainable, comfortable, and money-saving, Bluestone says.

“For most of them, it’s their first home and they are amazed at the level of finishes and quality when they see it.”

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor for EcoHome.