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City Pledges 30 Percent Cut in Carbon Emissions From Public Housing

By Amy Zimmer | February 2, 2017 8:26am
 An aerial view of NYCHA's Kingsborough Houses in Crown Heights.
An aerial view of NYCHA's Kingsborough Houses in Crown Heights.
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MANHATTAN — The city’s largest landlord is stepping up to the plate to go greener and join the NYC Carbon Challenge.

New York City Housing Authority officials are expected to announce on Thursday the authority’s commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions from their buildings by at least 30 percent over 10 years.

The housing authority brings a mammoth portfolio totaling more than 175 million square feet of real estate to the NYC Carbon Challenge, with 20 of the city’s leading residential property management firms, owners and developers already participating. NYCHA manages nearly 178,000 apartments across 2,547 buildings throughout 328 developments in the five boroughs, representing 8.1 percent of citywide rentals, city officials said. More than 400,000 residents — or about 4.7 percent of the city’s population — live in NYCHA properties.

“As the nation’s largest housing authority and residential landlord, we can have a major impact on curbing the effects of climate change, which affects us all,” NYCHA chair and CEO Shola Olatoye said.

NYCHA officials are optimistic about making a host of ambitious building retrofits despite chronic funding woes — with a capital repair deficit of nearly $17 billion — and questions about the new leadership at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds more than two-thirds of the city’s public housing budget.

The big focus will be on getting brighter lighting into homes and more comfortable and reliable heating, said Bomee Jung, NYCHA vice president of Energy and Sustainability.

The city gets much of its funding for large-scale energy upgrades at its massive developments through federally-funded Energy Performance Contracts that end up paying for themselves, Jung explained.

A previous $18 million contract, for instance, funded energy efficient lighting upgrades at 16 developments that then subsidized heating plant upgrades at six developments, Jung said.

Pending contracts — some of which have been filed, and some that are in the works, totaling nearly $300 million — are expected to fund even bigger programs that upgrade lighting at scores of complexes with LEDs in apartments and common spaces. The energy savings will then be used to upgrade temperature controls in units, which can go a long way in cutting energy usage. NYCHA buildings tend to have an overheating problem, with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, on average, leading to a lot of open windows in the winter, Jung said.

“The vast majority of carbon footprint shrinkage has to come from hot water and heating efficiency measures,” Jung said. “Our installed technology tends to foster overheating."

One way NYCHA hopes to tackle the problem is by putting thermostatic radiator valves on apartment radiators, which give tenants the ability to control their heat, improve their comfort and keep their windows closed.

Jung was hopeful that new HUD secretary, Ben Carson, would continue to look favorably on the long-standing energy program, which has had support through several administrations since 1995.

“It exists because it’s a cost-neutral program for HUD. The savings have to be sufficient to pay for the capital improvements,” Jung said. “After 20 years, it’s a net-benefit to HUD.”

She also noted that half of NYCHA’s developments are in small buildings scattered around the city — housing roughly 25,000 apartments. Since these buildings don’t make sense for the large-scale HUD-funded programs, the authority was recently accepted to be part of the state’s Weatherization Assistance Program for low-income households, after several years of planning.

This entitles building to get energy audits and then enables them to get retrofits, including new lighting, basic weather sealing and one major upgrade, which usually is either new windows or a new boiler, Jung explained.

“We’re going to spend the next 10 years, give or take, and take things that are off-the-shelf technologies to make our [existing] systems as good as they can be. This means incremental improvements and tuning the systems we have,” she said. “It’s getting as much bang for our buck using existing technologies that are deployable today.”

NYCHA signing onto the challenge and joining 20 of the city’s leading residential property management firms, owners and developers who already made the pledge to go greener is expected to help the de Blasio administration’s goal of an 80 percent reduction of emissions by 2050.

The Carbon Challenge, launched under the Bloomberg administration in 2007, also includes 17 universities, 10 hospital organizations, 24 commercial tenants, 10 commercial property owners and 18 hotels.