Green Development Zone

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Green Development Zone

United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

In 2008, PUSH established a Green Development Zone (GDZ) on Buffalo's West Side by concentrating investments in green affordable housing, geo-thermal and solar energy, green jobs training, and urban agriculture. In developing the vision for the GDZ, PUSH engaged in an extensive community planning involving hundreds of neighborhood residents. Work in the GDZ thus far includes the completion of 11 units of green affordable housing, with 20 additional units in development; a NetZero housing renovation, including advanced geo-thermal and solar systems; paid job training in green construction for 40 out-of-school young adults; and a partnership with the Massachusetts Avenue Project, which runs a two acre urban farm. Significant partners in the GDZ include LISC and Green for All.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Direct beneficiaries of PUSH's Green Development Zone include the 20 to 40 at-risk young adults trained and employed in green construction annually; the low-income families who occupy PUSH's renovated homes upon their completion and the residents living in formerly vacant homes and vacant lots that have been transformed into models of sustainability. As PUSH continues to translate its model into public policy victories at the state and Federal level, indirect beneficiaries include the thousands of individuals who will be employed in New York's new Green Jobs/Green NY building retrofit program, which was championed by PUSH, and neighborhoods across the state receiving funding through the Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative, a program conceived by PUSH.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

PUSH's Green Development Zone has gained national attention as a model of urban sustainability. Planners and architects have been drawn to see the unique density of innovative sustainable development projects. Visitors have included Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and Senator Charles Schumer. Unique features of the Zone include: Proving the viability of NetZero rehab construction by transforming a vacant, 19th century property into a sustainable dwelling while employing neighborhood residents. The NetZero house is in close proximity to more than 30 units of green-design housing either completed or in construction in the GDZ. Linking the sustainability movement to economic justice by employing residents and developing the Zone through a community-led planning process, which has enabled PUSH to build a powerful, grassroots constituency for implementation and additional green investment. Providing a model in a dense, walkable, low-income neighborhood which includes green architecture, green jobs training, urban ag and green infrastructure, making it a living laboratory of sustainability practices. Incorporating sustainable landscaping--the GDZ includes twenty lots used as rain gardens, food production lots, native planting gardens, tree farms, and bee pollinator lots--sets a new standard in a low-income urban context. Elevating the Zone in the public policy realm by mobilizing grassroots PUSH members led Governor Paterson to create a Sustainable Neighborhoods program, now providing funding to neighborhoods across the state.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

PUSH has already transformed about 30 parcels of property in the Green Development Zone, including formerly vacant structures and vacant land, into models of sustainability, including green affordable housing, tree farms, rain gardens, urban agriculture plots and community gardens. Through its advocacy efforts, New York State and the City of Buffalo have committed more than $5 million to housing and infrastructure projects in the zone. PUSH has elevated these victories through developing community leaders to advocate for replication of the Zone across the state, resulting in the three new programs cited above. With the expansion of the Zone, PUSH will strengthen and extend its commitment to sustainable community development by creating a global model of community-led green construction, landscaping and renewable energy production. The success of the first NetZero house at 10 Winter Street has been noted by national architectural journals, leading public policymakers and elected officials. On its first NetZero project, PUSH gained valuable experience with solar and geo-thermal system installation, super-insulation and construction training, all of which are applicable to the expansion of the Zone. PUSH measures its success by the number of vacant housing units renovated as a result of its investments on the West Side; the number of workers employed and placed permanently in construction; the amount of carbon emissions reduced; the cost savings of reduced utility bills for low-income residents; and the number of residents involved in its planning efforts.
About You
People United for Sustainable Housing
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

People United for Sustainable Housing

Organization Phone


Organization Address

271 Grant Street

Organization Country

, NY, Erie County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, NY, Erie County

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

Aaron Bartley and Eric Walker founded PUSH in 2005 and the Green Development Zone in 2008. Aaron and Eric are inspired by the potential of integrating the green jobs movement with the tradition low-income neighborhood organizing to gain community control of resources. Aaron and Eric recruited low-income leaders from the neighborhood to design and implement a sustainable development plan and to lead high visibility campaigns for public policies that promote sustainable community development and neighborhood employment. Since its founding, PUSH has helped to create three new statewide sustainable development programs in partnership with Governors Spitzer and Paterson--the Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative, the Block-by-Block program and Green Jobs/Green NY, which is projected to create 20,000 and weatherize a half-million homes over the next five years. For his leadership, Eric has been named to the Governor's Climate Action board and the GJ/GNY implementation board.

The Green Development Zone flows from a vision of putting Buffalo's West Side--one of the most racially and ethnically diverse urban districts in the country given the recent arrival of thousands of refugees from Burma, Sudan, Somalia and Liberia--at the leading edge of sustainable design and green community development. By employing and training at-risk residents to rebuild their own neighborhood and by proving that low-income communities can set new standards for carbon reduction, green design, renewable energy production, the Zone will fulfill Aaron and Eric's vision of grassroots sustainability.

Social Impact
How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001 - 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

(1)Green construction has an up-front cost premium when compared to traditional affordable housing development. The state's housing funding programs will not cover that entire premium. As such, each house renovation necessitates more fund-raising than a typical affordable housing development. PUSH has helped to augment New York's funding criteria to favor green design.

(2)Certain green building techniques, such as vacant-lot, horizontal field geothermal systems feeding multiple dwellings, are highly innovative and are not in widespread use. As such, certain maintenance costs may prove to be more costly.

(3)Ensuring that PUSH's successful trainees are employed permanently in the field takes careful coordination and long-term relationship building with the private sector.

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

PUSH expects to add about 20 units of rehabilitated green affordable housing in the coming year, including an additional NetZero structure. 20 young adults from the West Side will be employed in completing the green construction projects.

PUSH anticipates the start of construction on a Sustainability Park at the center of the GDZ, planned over the past year by residents and PUSH leaders. The park will be sustainably landscaped with native plants, will include food production parcels and will feature sculpture made by children in the neighborhood.

PUSH will continue to promote the GDZ model with public officials and anticipates victories that will bring millions of new investment to low-income neighborhoods.

At every step, PUSH will remain rooted in the needs of its members.

For each selection, please explain the financial and non-financial support from each

PUSH has a broad and diversified base of support. PUSH has a base of about 650 individual donors who contribute financially on an annual basis. We receive membership dues from more about 500 community residents. We have received support from seven regional foundations and national foundations for implementation of the Green Development Zone and for community organizing to generate more resources for sustainable development. We have ongoing collaborations with more than twenty national and regional NGOs, including Green for All, the Center for Community Change, National Peoples Action, and the Center for Working Families. As part of our work to strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act, we have partnered with the Federal Reserve to present Green Jobs for Buffalo, PUSH's training component, to financial institutions, five of which have supported housing rehabilitation and job training in the Green Development Zone. PUSH has forged strong relationships with HUD and has hosted a visit by Secretary Donovan. PUSH received recovery funds through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to acquire 20 vacant properties in the Green Development Zone, several of which could be converted into NetZero structures. PUSH also has its own self-generated revenue stream coming from the rental of high-quality affordable housing units to low and moderate income individuals and Buffalo's West Side. The organization is planning additional social ventures, including weatherization contracting, to add additional self-generated revenue.

How do you plan to grow and/or diversify your base of support in the next three years?

PUSH is developing a formal three-year development plan in concert with a development consultant. In expanding the Green Development Zone, PUSH intends to strengthen its support in the following areas: (1) individual donors, especially those interested in the intersection of urban design, sustainability and community development; (2) national foundations interested in fostering a workable and scalable model of a new, sustainable urban economy built on drastic reductions of carbon usage, substantial decrease in the cost of utilities for low-income customers (the savings from which go to supporting the neighborhood economy); (3) self-generated revenue from affordable, high-quality rental properties and homes to first-time homebuyers.

PUSH will build its base of individual supporters by projecting a clear message and strengthening its brand as a leading force in sustainable economic development with an organized base of low-income leaders capable of promoting and scaling the model through public policy victories. PUSH has developed a strong media presence and tight message framework with which to strengthen its brand. PUSH was featured on a two-hour episode of Extreme Makeover in 2010, which emphasized sustainable building techniques and neighborhood engagement. In partnership with Green for All, PUSH produced a short film on the Green Development Zone and the fist NetZero house at 10 Winter Street. Our work has been featured in more than 100 print articles in mass media sources in 2010.

Please select your areas of intervention in the home improvement market

Financing, Design, Technology, Labor, Energy conservation, Renewable energy, Green housing, Urban development, Citizen/community participation, Public policy.

Is your innovation addressing barriers in the home improvement/progressive housing market? If so, please describe in detail your mechanisms of intervention

PUSH's program of green housing development and public policy reform in the Green Development Zone, addresses many barriers in the progressive housing market, including the following:

Renewable Energy Technology and Green Building Techniques: The use of "horizontal field" geo-thermal heating systems on urban vacant lots is extremely rare. The system designed for PUSH's first two NetZero projects is a proof of concept. Given that the system has now been implemented successfully, PUSH intends to replicate it on future housing developments. Architects, engineers and planners have regularly visited the NetZero house and PUSH anticipates that the vacant lot geothermal system will be widely adopted elsewhere.

PUSH has also done path-breaking work on overcoming finance barriers to housing weatherization. Through Green Jobs/Green NY, a statewide program championed by PUSH in partnership with the Center for Working Families, a new model for finance green housing investments for families statewide was developed. By pooling private capital and providing funds job training, Green Jobs/Green NY is expected to lead to 1 million houses weatherized and 30,000 green jobs created over the next five years.

Are you currently collaborating with private companies, or have you partnered with private companies in the past? With which companies?

PUSH's partners in the Green Development Zone include: (1) Watts Engineering and Eco-Logic Studios, an architecture firm specializing in green design. Watts created the design for the vacant lot geo-thermal system and Eco-Logic created the system design for the other features on the house. (2) The Green Jobs contracting network, a set of 10 community-based contractors who are implementing the Green Jobs/Green NY program and performing work in the Green Development Zone. (3) several dozens companies, including major banks like Citizens, M & T and HSBC, that have made donations to advance projects in the Zone.

Please describe in detail the nature of the partnership(s)

Watts Engineering donated services to design the NetZero geo-thermal system. The other companies have provided contracted services to complete projects in the Green Development Zone.

In partnership with Green for All and National Peoples Action, PUSH has engaged a wide variety of financial institutions and the Federal Reserve in a year-long dialogue about "Greening the Community Reinvestment Act". This dialogue is aimed at increasing incentives for investment in sustainable development in low-income neighborhoods.

Select the unit(s) with which the partnership was formed

Foundation of the company, R&D department.