Yonkers municipal housing to see climate conscious landscaping

Often times, local residents look in vain for relief on some of Yonkers’ hottest streets.

These areas are also often neighborhoods where discriminatory housing practices have occurred.

But now comes some relief.

Residents of the Joseph F. Loehr Court urban apartment building in Yonkers met with representatives from Groundwork Hudson Valley and the City of Yonkers Municipal Housing Authority to discuss plans to control heat and flooding at the site on July 6, 2021.  Speaking on the far left is Brigitte Griswold, Managing Director of Groundwork.

By late summer or early autumn, the residents of four municipal residential areas will be redesigned to counteract the effects of climate change such as floods and heat islands.

Fundamentals Hudson Valley has identified three headquarters in Yonkers hardest hit by climate change to focus on, Old Seventh Ward, Getty Square and Radford, and is forming a climate task force to address climate issues in those areas .

The problem is bigger than just these neighborhoods, too, said Brigitte Griswold, executive director of Groundwork, noting that the southwestern part of the city is a large urban heat island, an area that has higher temperatures than surrounding areas.

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The heat island effect is due to the way urban areas are designed, said Oded Holzinger, Groundwork’s climate resilience manager. Streets and buildings absorb the heat during the day and give off the heat at night when temperatures would normally drop.

“There’s nowhere to go,” said Yolanda Lee, 59, a resident of Joseph F. Loehr Court, one of four urban neighborhoods that will see the new landscaping. She and other residents gathered outside the building on Tuesday when the temperature reached 95 degrees.

Yolanda Lee, a resident of the Joseph F. Loehr Court urban housing complex in Yonkers, July 6, 2021.

On hot days, Lee said as she sat in a small shade in front of the building, she and other residents were forced to stay inside. A concrete slab with a couple of benches and little to no shade is the only outside area for them.

Landscaping will include plants and trees that maximize shade and are absorbent, Griswold said. Groundwork works with the Municipal Housing Authority of the City of Yonkers on the landscaping projects. Bioswales, sunken gardens that absorb rainwater, also help with flooding.

As people get older, they need shady areas if they want to be outside, said Jose Mejina, 72, who also lives on Loehr Court. And landscaping will satisfy another need that Mejina identified: a place to socialize.

Roommate Rosendo Figueroa, 78, looks forward to gentler walks near the building, which has a large lawn that wraps around the back but doesn’t have a sidewalk or seating there. The rear of the building is also adjacent to what will be the Yonkers Greenway, an abandoned railroad that is being converted into a city path.

Rosendo Figueroa, a resident of the Joseph F. Loehr Court urban housing estate in Yonkers, July 6, 2021.

Loehr Court landscaping will cost around $ 250,000. Other urban residential locations also receiving climate-conscious landscaping include Ross F. Calcagno Homes, which is earmarked for approximately $ 750,000 in landscaping. Kris Kristensen Homes and Msgr. Cajetan J. Troy Manor will collectively receive approximately $ 327,000 for landscaping. At the Calcagno Homes, where rapper DMX once lived, the landscaping will include a memorial garden in honor of him.

“It is important that we can address the issue of extreme heat directly at your home,” said Holzinger. Instead of taking the bus to the water or staying indoors on hot days, residents can enjoy the cooler areas right outside their home.

The Yonkers City Housing Authority took the landscaping into account when they completed renovations to their units – all MHACY homes have already been refurbished or will be done through a U.S. housing and urban development initiative – said President and CEO Wilson Kimball.

Tree tops help with the heat and make roads easier to walk on. Where tree planting isn’t possible, artificial shade structures or reflective roofs are an option, Holzinger said.

Brigitte Griswold, Executive Director of Groundwork, left, and Wilson Kimball, President and CEO of Yonkers Municipal Housing Agency at Joseph F. Loehr Court in Yonkers July 6, 2021. The groups are working on a program to improve the landscaping of public housing sites .

“Low-income people will not be able to adapt to climate change like middle- and high-income people are,” Griswold said.

Kimball said the changes will save MHACY from costly problems like in the past. MHACY has spent tens of thousands of dollars on flood-related damage over the past few years, including replacing boilers and cleaning drainage systems.

Holzinger added, “Instead of looking at climate change as this big issue of global warming, the melting ice on the poles, we can look at it as our ability to deal with the increase in heat waves and the increase in heavy rain events in our community.”

Contact Diana Dombrowski at ddombrowski@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @domdomdiana

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