Green House Effect - Yvonne Isaac '70
magine a Manhattan apartment building where fresh filtered air is delivered to every unit; where energy consumption is 70 percent less than comparable buildings in the city, substantially reducing heating bills; where a desktop computer keeps an eye on washing machines in the laundry room and tells residents when their clothes are finished; where every apartment has broadband digital networks and all residents have access to a video conferencing center.
Now imagine that a working-class family can afford to live there.
Fantasy? No: It’s reality, thanks to Full Spectrum NY, an African-American -owned real estate company, where Yvonne Isaac ’70 is vice president of operations. Located in Harlem, 1400 Fifth Avenue is Full Spectrum’s 225,000 square-foot brainchild, a $40 million residential and retail building. It’s the largest affordable green condominium in the country—and the only affordable housing project to receive the New York State Green Building Tax Credit.
“Objectively, it’s exciting,” says Isaac of the building’s exceptional status. “But realistically, it’s a shame that the development community sees green as a luxury and doesn’t see the value proposition in terms of the end user as well as their own pockets.”
At the heart of Isaac’s work is the urban revitalization of “under-invested” communities. Full Spectrum is a for-profit enterprise that utilizes sustainable design and renewable materials in real estate development. Their main values for investing in urban neighborhoods are that the developments must be energy-efficient, exceed average air quality standards, utilize renewable resources and have the capacity to empower residents through access to digital resources. Two-thirds of the units at 1400 Fifth are specifically for moderate-income families; the rest are sold at market value.
Isaac finds great reward in the end product. When asked why she loves what she does, Isaac responds, “Simple. I’m able to bring 30 years of corporate experience to a greater good while still making money.”
Growing up during the socially conscious ‘60s, Isaac belonged to a generation that felt both entitled to an education and obligated to do something with it. She’s been an activist since her Sarah Lawrence days. “The protests of the late sixties were about self-determination, diversity and the Vietnam war,” she says. “They informed my subsequent political education around more global issues of the environment and economic development in emerging countries.”
After Sarah Lawrence, Isaac went on to receive two Master of Science degrees, one from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Urban and Environmental Science and one from Polytechnic University in Transportation Planning and Engineering. She worked at Philadelphia’s industrialized housing division of General Electric, overseeing the development of technologies for subsidized housing. From there, Isaac moved to Perkins and Will, an architecture firm, where she spent several years on a federally funded study to determine the modernization requirements of the nation’s entire public housing stock. She has also overseen, for the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation, the construction of a $42.3 million ambulatory care building at Harlem Hospital and has taught transportation planning for the graduate programs of Pratt Institute and Columbia University.
In 1992, Isaac relocated from New York to Atlanta, where she worked for eleven years as a Senior Vice President at Bovis Lend Lease, a global construction and management firm. Isaac oversaw projects as varied as community healthcare facilities, public schools, college and universities, museums and the 1996 Olympic Games, where she worked on the tennis, archery and cycling venues.
For her current position at Full Spectrum, Isaac moved back to New York—at least part-time; when she’s not working, she lives in Georgia with her husband, Harold Rhynie, a professional photographer. Despite a demanding schedule, Isaac has remained connected to the College: She served on the Black Alumnae/i Association in the mid-eighties, hosted an SLC Faculty on the Road event in Atlanta in 2002, and joined the College’s Board of Trustees last year as an alumnae/i trustee. Isaac is also an at-large member of the Alumnae/i Board. She also finds time to travel (two trips to Senegal within the last year) and write (publishing two pieces about the south of France in Atlanta Good Life).
Thirty-five years after graduating from Sarah Lawrence, Isaac’s work honors her early tenet that—whatever she did with her life and education—she had to effect change in the world.
“I was on a path from the beginning,” she told Sarah Lawrence. “I didn’t waver at all. I’m doing something that I love and that I feel like I was born to do.”
—Suzanne Guillette MFA ’05The completed Full Spectrum building at 1400 Fifth Avenue