Seeing Green: NYCHA Aims to Cut Carbon, and Costs

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Trees shade the bricks at the Robert Wagner Houses.

Photo by: Jarrett Murphy

Trees shade the bricks at the Robert Wagner Houses.

To save money on utilities—which represent 19 percent of NYCHA’s costs—and get in line with Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC commitment to reduce New York’s carbon footprint, NYCHA has launched a multimillion-dollar program to conserve energy. But it will depend on residents’ cooperation.

The first phase of the effort will involve replacing inefficient boilers and installing computerized heating systems and instantaneous hot-water heaters, which heat water only when it is needed rather than heating, storing and reheating it. Since 2007, 150,000 energyefficient fluorescent lightbulbs were installed in 26,000 apartments. These measures are expected to save $26 million a year “for investment in later phases,” according to NYCHA’s annual plan. NYCHA is working to make sure any savings don’t trigger reductions in federal funding.

The total effort will cost $400 million. Grants from utility companies will pay some of the cost. The rest will be borrowed on the private market, but the Clinton Climate Initiative has pledged to help NYCHA access the private funding it needs.

A major part of the green initiative is an education campaign to persuade NYCHA residents to conserve energy. Since residents at most NYCHA developments do not pay directly for utilities, they have little personal incentive to switch off the lights.

NYCHA’s environmental agenda also includes planting 10,700 trees on developments thanks to a grant from the mayor and David Rockefeller. But even as NYCHA seeks to save money by going green, the financial pressures the authority is facing put green space at risk.

Many NYCHA developments sit amid a great deal of open space. Buildings at the largest development, Baruch Houses in Manhattan, cover a mere 13 percent of the development’s total area. The buildings at Boston Secor, in the Bronx, cover just 5 percent. NYCHA is looking to develop some of its open land to generate revenue that will narrow its budget gap. But the open space offers certain environmental benefits. Grass absorbs stormwater runoff. Trees reduce air pollution. That’s why critics are calling for a better-defined process for balancing revenue needs and environmental impact when NYCHA sells land.