Tax incentive designed to create more green roofs expanded

After a tax perk promoting green roofs went largely unused, elected officials are increasing the incentive to help the program grow.

State Sen. John Liu and Assemb. Nily Rozic heralded on Monday legislation they shepherded into law, which revamps the green roof tax abatement program. 

Through July 2024, property owners across the city will continue to be entitled to an abatement of $5.23 per square foot of green roof, provided at least 80% of the surface is covered with plants.

But the new law also gives the city the authority to abate $15 per square foot in community districts prone to sewage overflows during storms and that have a limited amounts of green space. Owners may not receive an abatement of more than $200,000.

Rozic said the cost of installing vegetation on roofs was prohibitive for many property owners. 

"The distribution of green roof spaces in the city are mostly limited to Manhattan, and that’s really unfair for outer borough communities like our own," said Rozic, who represents Flushing, Hillcrest, Fresh Meadows, Oakland Gardens and Bayside. "Manhattan (is) a borough to-date that doesn’t really have sewer overflow issues like the ones we see out here in Queens."

While the city can abate a total of up to $1 million for green roofs, no landlord received the tax credit in fiscal year 2018, according to the city’s annual property tax report. And in the decade prior, just seven owners received the benefit, according to Rozic. 

Fewer than 750 of the city’s 1 million buildings have green roofs, an estimation that includes both those receiving and not receiving tax benefits, according to Emily Nobel Maxwell, The Nature Conservancy’s New York City program director. 

Environmental advocates and Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has called for reforming the tax benefit program, said green roofs help insulate buildings and reduce energy costs. They also absorb rainfall, which is particularly meaningful in areas where precipitation overwhelms the sewage system, sending raw waste into the waterways.

"This bill does it all by modernizing the green roof tax credit and taking a stand for environmental justice," Stringer said. "The rooftops of our buildings cover 62 square miles of our city. They keep us dry in our homes, but they can also be the first line of attack in climate change."

Stringer suggested that raising the total tax abatements the city can allot to $10 million would help the concept spread. Such a move, however, would require state legislation. 

“Green roofs capture stormwater, create new green spaces, and result in multiple other benefits for New Yorkers. We strongly support this law and believe that increased incentives will accelerate the installation of green roofs across the city,” the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability spokesman Phil Ortiz said in a statement.