The solutions to both New York’s affordable housing shortage and the global climate emergency are inextricably linked. That is why the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) supports a bill in the Legislature that would establish a Sustainable Affordable Housing Incentive Program to help create more energy efficient affordable housing in New York.
Committing $50 million to the program would significantly reduce the carbon footprint of affordable housing projects and help New York State achieve its climate change goals as outlined under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). It would also build on existing efforts from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to create net-zero affordable housing projects by making funding more efficient and reliable for the industry and the marketplace.
New York must embrace this opportunity. In New York City alone, nearly 70 percent of carbon emissions are generated by existing buildings, the vast majority of which will still be standing in 2050. Construction and ongoing operations of buildings account for 40 percent of all energy consumption in the United States. In other words, building greener is essential to meeting climate goals in New York and beyond.
But affordable housing units, because they have rents that must be appropriately priced for low- and middle-income households and therefore operate on extremely thin financial margins, are often unable to be built to the net-zero carbon standard that New York deserves.
These margins make it very difficult for developers to implement expensive, albeit effective, emerging technology in their projects. A guaranteed pool of state funding specifically reserved for emerging green technology in affordable housing could significantly improve that equation.
Financial certainty would allow cutting edge green tools like heat pumps, which are currently cost prohibitive, to be more attractive in affordable housing projects. It will also encourage the marketplace of product development and production to more confidently work with our industry, knowing opportunities exist going forward.
We have already seen the power of sustainable affordable development in action. NYSAFAH’s 2020 Upstate Project of the Year, RUPCO’s Energy Square in Kingston, achieved net-zero through a partnership with NYSERDA. The funding empowered RUPCO to leverage renewable energy sources like solar installations and a geothermal ground source heat pump system.
Projects like this need to be encouraged. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that the use of green design and construction can help keep both building and operational costs down. Additionally, energy efficient features can play a vital role in creating a healthier built environment for tenants. This is especially important as members of the low-income and minority communities served by our industry are most likely to live in neighborhoods with the dirtiest air and the poorest performing environmental assets.
A statewide fund will help make net-zero projects the standard in New York while also reducing energy consumption for tenants, saving them money; it will benefit the disadvantaged communities served by affordable housing; and it will help New York achieve its climate goals.
We urge New York to move forward with this commonsense solution and establish the state as the national leader in sustainable affordable housing construction.