Location: Your company has a very clearly defined mission to build mixed-income, environmentally sensitive buildings close to transit. Why did you leave your family’s business and set this one up?
Mr. Rose: Everything I do draws from the legacy of having been a partner of Rose Associates for 13 years and having grown up as a member of such an extraordinary family. The genes of philanthropy run deep, the genes of wanting to help make the world a better place. In my father’s generation, though, real estate development and making the world a better place were viewed as more or less two separate domains. I was inspired by several people—including Anita Roddick, who just passed away and who founded the Body Shop, and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream—that there was another way, that there was a way to create a business that was both a really good business, but was also socially and environmentally responsible.
I left Rose Associates with the blessing of my family in 1989 to create a business that tried to bring together social responsibility, environmental responsibility and economic responsibility.
Why were you not able to do that within Rose Associates?
Rose Associates has had a very clear format and mission. They build really great, mostly market-rate apartment buildings in Manhattan and I think they are the best in the business. I wanted to be much more geographically diverse. I wanted to be much more product-type diverse. I am deep into affordable housing. I was interested in green building back then. I wanted to create a platform in which I could develop my own ideas.
As for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new sustainability commission, of which you were named chairman recently, why did they choose you?
You will have to ask them. I believe that they chose me because I have been a leading thinker in transit-oriented development and in thinking about the relationship between transit and regional growth. More energy typically is used getting to and from a building than by the building itself.
The typical suburban single-family house uses 115 million BTU’s of energy, but it takes 125 BTU’s of energy to get to and from it, or 240 BTU’s altogether. You can green the house and change the cars to hybrids and cut the energy some; but instead, if you took the same house and rolled it to an urban location in Brooklyn or Queens or Riverdale, the fact that so much more of the household trips are walking or transit reduces the energy used to 143 BTU’s—the combined energies of the house and transit.
If you green the house and green the cars, you’re down to 89 BTU’s, and if you make it green multifamily, you are down to 62 BTU’s. You have cut the energy budget by three-quarters. So as a nation, it is anticipated that we will grow by 94 million people over the next 30 years; we as a nation will have to decide where we are going to put those people.
If urban living is more efficient than suburban living, why are you building in Stamford, Conn.?
Well, in Stamford, Conn., we partnered with the Malkin family. They are building an office building and we are building mixed-income housing next to it, and it is literally next to the Stamford train station. So we say our goal is not just to develop in cities, but also in towns and villages—though Stamford is a city—and that what we are doing there is completely in line with our philosophy—that is, mixed-income and close to transit.
One of the items the sustainability initiative is supposed to explore is what role the M.T.A. will play in promoting smart growth strategies and transit-oriented developments, which must be right up your alley. Do you have any ideas on that?
I don’t want to preempt the committee, but the M.T.A. owns all these assets right next to their train stations that are parking lots that are ideal for transit-oriented development.
So the idea is to build on top of those lots?
It depends on the zoning of each community. It might be dense townhouses. It might be retail with townhouses above, or condominiums above, or apartment houses. It all depends, but there are certainly opportunities for dense mixed-income development right next to many of the train stations.
What about yourself personally? How do you walk the walk as well as talk the talk?
I walk to work. I have an apartment in New York City and I walk through Central Park to work; and I have a house in Garrison and I have the most beautiful walk through a field and along the Hudson River to the train station and take Metro-North into the city, and so I actually almost never drive.
Is this actually your office? [Mr. Rose was in a space about as large as a maid’s room.]
This is actually my office. Different from Donald Trump’s, right? We have lots of common spaces around. I would normally go with you to the library that has books and couches and such, but as I walked by I noticed someone else was using it. So we’re here.
I noticed you serve your employees lunch every day, and you provide real plates and silverware and glasses.
Right, no paper plates. By the way, even the water—we don’t have delivered water. We have a water filter here. The water from New York City is great but we filter it anyway, and so there are not plastic bottles. I mean, there might be one or two lying around at someone’s desk.
When you get together with your family, are you known as the crunchy granola one wearing Birkenstocks?
First of all, there are two sides to my family, but I assume you mean when I get together with the Roses. I don’t think the green movement is seen as being crunchy granola and wearing Birkenstocks. I think the green movement is taken seriously in the investment world. In my family, I think I am known as someone who has made a very successful business out of his values.
How are you able to do all these good things—mixed-income housing, reviving downtowns, building near transit—and still make money?
You have to be good at real estate to be successful, and if the real estate is not right, it doesn’t matter if you are green or not. It is not going to work, and that’s where my family comes in. I learned a trade from the very best and that background is what makes our projects so successful.
Would you earn more if you were not environmentally conscious and built all market-rate housing?
Because we have been doing green for a long time, we pay very little more to do it, and we get enormous payback for it. Clearly, building affordable housing is much less profitable than building market-rate, but it is also much less risky. I am always looking at risk-adjusted returns, and what we have is a very diversified company.
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