De Blasio to force NYC building owners to upgrade buildings to fight climate change
Would require retrofitted boilers, roofs, windows
With New York City’s skyscrapers looming behind him, Mayor Bill de Blasio visited Brooklyn Bridge Park on Thursday to announce new rules that would force thousands of building owners to retrofit their buildings in order to make sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Citing disasters ranging from Superstorm Sandy to the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida, the mayor said New York City must lead the way on climate change initiatives.
“The number one problem is those buildings you see behind me,” de Blasio said as he turned and pointed to the massive structures across the East River. “When we think about pollution we think about vehicles, but these buildings actually are the biggest problem that has not yet been addressed in this city.
“We’re not waiting on President Trump and his cabinet of deniers,” he added. “Regardless of what happens in Washington, we will not shirk our responsibility to act on climate in our own backyard. We have to solve our own problems.”
De Blasio said his office would be compiling a list of some of the more outstanding buildings that would be affected, including Trump Tower.
The mandates, which must be approved by the City Council, would compel owners to meet fossil fuel caps with high penalties for failure to comply.
The rules would require upgrades to boilers, water heaters, roofs and windows in roughly 14,500 private and city-owned buildings by 2030. These buildings account for roughly a quarter of the city’s emissions, de Blasio said.
The retrofits would actually pay for themselves over a period of five to 15 years, the mayor said. Low-interest, long-term loans via the PACE program would be available to small (under 25,000 square feet) building owners.
For example, a 30,000 square foot residential building bucking the rules would be penalized $60,000 for every year over the standard, starting in 2030. A one million square foot building operating substantially over its energy target would pay as much as $2,000,000 for every year over target. Failure to comply will also affect a building’s ability to receive future permits for major renovations.
Landlords of rent regulated buildings and housing projects would be prevented from displacing tenants or raising rents (through MCI cost increases) based on the cost of the required improvements, the mayor said.
“In this plan we separate out the affordable housing buildings. We put them on a different timeline on purpose,” he said. (Affordable housing would get five extra years to comply.)
But de Blasio was fuzzy on whether other landlords would be allowed to raise rents, saying that he hoped to convince lawmakers in Albany to fix the MCI (Major Capital Improvement) law to prevent this abuse.
“It ultimately pays for itself. So there’s no reason to burden tenants,” he said. “We’re going to go to Albany to fix the MCI law so that this will be entirely outside of that.”
Under MCI, landlords can pass on the cost of new windows, boilers, roofs and other building-wide work as permanent rent increases, even after the improvements are paid off.
Backing from environmental groups, dissent from real estate, community and tenant groups
Representatives from groups including New York City Panel on Climate Change, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and New York League of Conservation Voters stood in solidarity with the mayor at Thursday’s announcement. Numerous elected officials also praised the plan.
Several organizations objected to it, however, though for different reasons.
John Banks, president of REBNY (Real Estate Board of New York), said in a statement on Thursday that while the real estate group supports greenhouse gas reduction efforts, “These proposals require careful analysis, discussion and debate. The city’s goals could inadvertently promote buildings that use less overall energy without regard to how the energy is used.”
He added, “A trading floor with many terminals and employees might not meet targets, but an empty windowless building used for storage would meet the target. We all need to do what we can to make sustainable efforts affordable and achievable for all New Yorkers.”
At the heart of REBNY’s concern is that the proposal is based on what the group calls a flawed metric, Energy Use Intensity (EUI). The group calls it an inappropriate measure because it does not take into account occupant density and space within a building. Instead, it simply divides a building’s annual energy consumption by its total gross floor area.
New York Communities for Change called the plan “timid” in a release on Thursday. “The mayor’s plan would not meaningfully cut climate pollution,” spokesperson Pete Sikora said. A rally across from City Hall took place after the mayor’s announcement.
Delsenia Glover, a spokesperson for the Alliance for Tenant Power, said landlords would likely take advantage of the new rules to raise rents.
“The plan released today assumes that new rent laws will magically fix the problem of mandatory capital improvements, which lead to bigger profits for landlords and higher rents for tenants,” Glover said. “Stronger rent laws are necessary for the survival of the working class in New York City, and we welcome support in passing them. But a plan that accelerates mandatory capital improvements before stronger laws are passed would be political malpractice.”
The mandate accelerates the mayor’s pledge, made early this year after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would abandon the Paris Climate Agreement, that New York City would independently reach 80 percent reduction in emissions by the 2050 target. The mandates announced today “frontload” the most dramatic reductions into the coming decade, the mayor said.
Robert White, a resident of Red Hook Houses, which were inundated during Superstorm Sandy, gave an emotional introduction to the mayor, recounting the terrible times the city’s largest NYCHA complex suffered during and after the storm.
“For the longest time, I didn’t believe in climate change. Hurricane Sandy changed that for me,” he told the crowd gathered on Pier 2.
“The basement where the electrical was, down there with the boiler and some other critical systems, was flooded. We could hear the explosions. The lights went out, and they were out for almost a month. It was a terrifying situation. It was like living in the twilight zone,” White said.
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