Greener Affordable Housing: Fighting Poverty and Pollution

UB Law School Report Suggests "Greening" Affordable Housing Programs

Release Date: September 11, 2007 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Is it possible to fight poverty and pollution at the same time?

A report released today by UB Law School instructor Sam Magavern and his students suggests that Buffalo, the state and the non-profit community can do just that by "greening" their affordable housing programs.

The report was presented to a panel of local housing experts, including Thomas Van Nortwick, regional director of the New York Division of Housing and Community Renewal, at an Affordable Housing and the Environment Roundtable held in conjunction with the UB Law School's celebration of "Affordable Housing Month."

UB Law's Affordable Housing Clinic has helped secure $165 million in affordable housing for Western New York residents since its founding 20 years ago.

The report is available at

Magavern, who teaches in the Affordable Housing Clinic, says he was surprised by some of the study's findings.

"You might think that greener housing is more expensive," he explains, "but the research shows just the opposite. Over the life of a home, a greener home will save the owner large amounts of money, mainly by lowering utility bills."

What would greener affordable housing look like?

"When people think about green housing, they often think about new construction," Magavern notes. "But for a city like Buffalo, the key is not building new housing so much as preserving, rehabilitating and weatherizing our existing housing stock."

The Buffalo region has plenty of existing housing stock, with more than 42,000 vacant units in the metropolitan region, according to the study. The City of Buffalo, in particular, is plagued with abandoned houses, and has plans to demolish 1,000 per units per year.

"From an ecological perspective, our top priority should be to revitalize our urban core," Magavern says. "It is incredibly wasteful for housing development in Western New York to keep sprawling out into farmland and woodlands, while abandoning and demolishing our existing housing stock."

Simply weatherizing an existing home has huge benefits in fighting poverty and pollution, the study reports. The federally funded Weatherization Assistance Program estimates that weatherization reduces utility bills for a gas-heated home by $461 per year, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions -- the leading culprit in global warming -- by 1,350 pounds per year.

"Like many people, I was surprised to learn just how much pollution we cause building and operating our housing," says Magavern. In Buffalo, for example, residential energy use is responsible for 34 percent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions.

Pollution tends to hurt people with low incomes the most, according to the report. Asthma, which is aggravated by air pollution, is most common in inner-city neighborhoods, where the air quality tends to be the worst. People living in poverty will also bear the brunt of global warming, Magavern says.

"If you care about poverty and homelessness, then you should be very concerned by global warming, because, as Hurricane Katrina showed, rising sea levels and storms can cause massive homelessness and wreak havoc in low-income communities."

Magavern researched and wrote the report with the help of UB Law students. Each student researched one aspect of the topic and then presented his or her findings to a local governmental official, non-profit head or other policymaker.

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