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Affordable Co-ops Get a Roadmap to Cutting Costs and Carbon Emissions

Bill Morris in Green Ideas on April 28, 2022

Washington Heights, Manhattan

Climate Action Pledge, Resource Guide, carbon emissions, HDFC affordable co-ops.

Affordable co-ops now have a valuable resource for cutting energy costs and carbon emissions.

April 28, 2022

It turns out the Climate Mobilization Act (Local Law 97) isn’t the only engine driving co-op and condo boards to boost their buildings’ energy efficiency and cut their carbon emissions. The push to maintain affordability — while fighting climate change — is also inspiring limited-equity co-ops to go green, even though they’re exempt from Local Law 97.

“For me, it’s about wanting to make a difference even though it’s not mandated — and even though we’re a low- to moderate-income co-op,” says Estelle Bajou, board president of a 20-unit, affordable HDFC co-op in Washington Heights. “When I was a renter, I didn’t have a whole lot of power over how my building dealt with climate change. When I moved in here two and a half years ago, I felt motivated.”

During Bajou’s time on the board, the co-op has participated in a free exchange program to swap its incandescent bulbs for LEDs, installed a rubber roof instead of tar, explored installing solar panels on the roof (it wasn’t cost-efficient), and has started talking about switching to electric heat pumps when the boiler gives out in the next few years. The board also joined a community solar project, which has cut electricity bills in the common areas without requiring solar panels on the roof. 

To top it off, the co-op has just signed the new Climate Action Pledge created by the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) in conjunction with Solar One, a nonprofit that provides technical assistance to multifamily buildings that are considering solar energy. Signers of the pledge agree to participate in at least one aspect of four categories: energy efficiency, training, neighborhood care and community engagement. The pledge comes with a comprehensive 32-page Resource Guidebook that offers a wealth of information on how co-ops with limited means can save money while helping save the planet.

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“There’s a recognition that affordable co-ops are struggling,” says Lawrence Haseley, a program manager at Solar One. “They need assistance making upgrades to their buildings — while maintaining affordability. Solar energy makes a lot of sense for some of these co-ops because of tax abatements at the city level and incentives at the state level. One of the challenges is that even if there’s a champion on the board who knows they need to make upgrades, they may not know where to go. The Resource Guidebook is a one-stop guide to all the programs that are available. We wanted to aggregate all the information and put it in one place.”

Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) co-ops like Bajou’s face very different challenges from market-rate properties. There are usually income limits for purchasers, caps on sale prices, and flip taxes to replenish reserve funds. Boards strive to minimize maintenance increases and assessments. The upside is that they enjoy tax breaks and, and they’re eligible for larger tax abatements and incentives than market-rate properties. And now they have a resource that can help them navigate the complex landscape of energy efficiency.

“We’re hoping the Resource Guidebook will make it very simple for HDFCs to understand,” says Lucia Santacruz, a project associate at UHAB. “Now they’ll know what’s out there and what they need to do.”

To contact UHAB, click here.

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