Bill Morris in Green Ideas on February 11, 2014
Feb. 11, 2014 — A few days before Christmas, as part of Michael Bloomberg's six-year-old PlaNYC, the outgoing mayor rolled out the New York City Carbon Challenge, an ambitious effort to get the city's three million units of multifamily housing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 30 percent over the next 10 years.
Co-ops and condos are a big part of this mix. Their 400,000 units make up about 16 percent of the city's multifamily housing — and residential buildings account for more than one-third of the city's greenhouse gas emissions.
This voluntary challenge, begun in 2007 with city government buildings, then expanded to include universities, hospitals, and large commercial buildings, is being run in partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). It promotes a variety of proven strategies for reducing energy use — and costs — including upgrades to heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems; installation of energy-efficient lighting and controls; and improvements to the building's "envelope," including its roof, windows and exterior walls.
Enter the Managers
The Carbon Challenge targets property managers as the link between government agencies and owners of multi-family residential properties, including co-op and condo boards as well as owners of rental apartments. So far, 10 management companies have agreed to participate: Akam Living Services, Century Property Management, Charles H. Greenthal Management, Douglas Elliman Property Management, FirstService Residential, Marion Scott Real Estate, Midboro Management, Prestige Management, Rose Associates, and RY Management.
After submitting a participation letter to the mayor's office, the property managers approach the boards or owners of the buildings in their portfolios to determine if they wish to participate. The next step is to inventory each property's annual carbon emissions. Finally, boards will meet with experts from various agencies — including NYSERDA, the New York City Energy Efficiency Corp., New York City Clean Heat, and Urban Green Council — as well as assorted engineers and architects to tailor an emissions-reduction plan for their building. NYSERDA grants will help to defray upfront costs.
"The property managers touch every decision-maker, so they're a natural advocate for this program," says Jenna Tatum, the city's Carbon Challenge coordinator. "[This initiative] brings together property managers and the energy managers in their companies to exchange information and accelerate the learning curve. They need to understand which technologies are right for each building. We're seeing buildings using their energy more efficiently, but we know we can to do more."
Easing a Transition
Laurie Kerr, an architect, was the mayor's deputy director of Energy Efficiency and Green Buildings from 2006 to 2012, and was involved in the rollout of the original PlaNYC in 2007. "If a co-op can reduce energy costs, everyone benefits because it reduces maintenance payments," Kerr says. "It's pretty clear that whoever pays for the improvements will reap the benefits. If those are aligned, you have a better prospect for success."
Calling the Carbon Challenge "a nice transition between the administrations," Kerr note that new mayor Bill de Blasio "is so interested in housing — reducing costs and making it better. This program could be a real example about what can happen in multifamily housing, especially for the middle class and poorer people."
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