New York City Unveils Energy and Water Conservation Program for Multifamily

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New York—The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and New York City Housing Development Corp. (HDC) have kicked off the city’s Green Housing Preservation Program, the goal of which is to assist owners of small- to mid-sized multifamily properties in the city in making energy-efficiency and water conservation improvements. The program is designed, according to the city, to address rising building costs, a growing affordable housing crisis in the city, and the risks of climate change.

Buildings across the five boroughs that have at least five units and fewer than 50,000 square feet (about 50 units) are eligible for the program. The Green Housing Preservation Program provides 0 percent interest evaporating loans for energy efficiency and water conservation improvements, and 1 percent repayable loans to help cover the costs of moderate rehabilitation improvements that go beyond the energy efficiency measures. The new program is projected to assist 475 units in the first year.

Examples of energy efficiency improvements include insulation, efficient light fixtures, weatherproofing windows, and the installation of efficiency controls on systems such as boilers and low-flow water fixtures. Based on a typical scope of work, buildings may reduce utility costs by about 10 percent or more annually. This represents an average savings of approximately $1,500 for a 10-unit building and $3,000 for a 20-unit building.

Many owners of small- to mid-sized buildings are being squeezed by steadily rising energy and water costs, and would benefit from weatherization and other efficiencies to reduce those expenses. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to secure the necessary financing to make those kinds of improvements, hence the creation of the program.

Such improvements promise considerable savings for owners and tenants. That’s because utility costs account for roughly 25 percent of the average operating budget of a rent-stabilized building. As for the tenant side of things, as rents and utility costs have outstripped wages, the demand for affordable housing has grown dramatically, along with the number of New Yorkers suffering from rent burdens. Currently 56 percent of city households are rent burdened, meaning they’re paying more than a third of their income in rent and utilities, and three in ten are paying half or more of their income to rent and utilities.

It’s also an environmental program. Almost 75 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, with 35 percent of emissions from residential buildings.

The program and related green preservation initiatives are being funded with $45 million in HPD’s fiscal year 2016 budget. Also, the New York City Energy Efficiency Corp. created a fund that will be available to participating owners who need assistance in financing the predevelopment requirements necessary for participation in the program.


City Council Enacts 2-Year Ban on Hotel-to-Condo Conversions

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City council voted yesterday to put a stop to hotel-to-condo conversions, but not for forever. The original legislation, pushed for by the New York Hotel Trades Council, called for a complete ban on conversions, but the Daily News reportsthat City Council decided to institute a two-year moratorim and conduct a study to determine the economic effects of conversions. The bill affects hotels with more than 150 rooms; owners of smaller hotels can still opt to convert, but they’ll need approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals.

The hotel workers union, obviously, is pleased by the vote, seeing as they don’t want any more jobs lost to condos, as is Councilman Councilman Corey Johnson, who sponsored the bill. He said that more than 1,000 people have already lost jobs. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is also in favor of the vote because conversions created “‘super duper luxury housing’ out of reach to most New Yorkers.”

Hotel owners and real estate professionals, on the other hand, are expectedly outraged. A spokesperson for the Real Estate Board of New York told the News, “We think it’s illegal. We think it’s unconstitutional. And we cannot imagine that there will not be a lawsuit to strike it from being put into effect.”


Empower developers to help solve New York’s housing crisis

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It is hardly news that New York City has a housing problem. Affordable property for average New Yorkers remains a scarce commodity. In fact, recent statistics indicate that the housing crisis is only intensifying. Census figures released last month show that the city’s population is worryingly bloated, having ballooned already to a level previously forecast only in 2020.

Meanwhile, rental vacancies in New York stand at a paltry 3.5%. Property in the city is simply not keeping pace with the needs of its residents.

Mayor Bill de Blasio insists that his ambitious 10-year plan to construct 80,000 affordable apartments and 160,000 market-rate units is on track. Yet, the city’s population is booming beyond expectations and the housing squeeze remains as tight as ever. In a revealing recent interview, even the director of the Department of City Planning admitted that Mr. de Blasio’s decade-long housing scheme won’t be enough.

There is no quick fix or single factor which will solve New York’s housing woes. However, the de Blasio plan relies heavily on funding construction from the public purse, including an eye-watering$8 billion from City Hall. Although the mayor is clearly committed to the cause, a more nuanced approach is required. Purchasing fresh bricks and mortar sounds all well and good, but it is expensive, cumbersome and insufficient.

City Hall must instead complement the de Blasio plan with a concerted attempt to smooth the process for eager developers. And it doesn’t require out-of-the-box thinking, either. (Micro-apartments have made headlines, but it is questionable whether there will be demand for them.) Instead, there are plenty of developers looking to transform properties with two to eight units into smart condos in attractive areas of the city. This is exactly the type of accommodation which usually eludes the young professionals and families fueling New York’s population growth.

And yet, these developments are too often hampered or delayed by City Hall’s evident reluctance to issue building permits. Rick Chandler, commissioner of the New York City Department of Buildings, has made progress since his appointment last summer, helping pave the way for a 14% increase in permits in 2014. However, this must be viewed as a positive first step rather than a target met. Although the number of permits issued has increased each year since 2008, it remains way below the rates of 2005 to 2008. The 2014 boost saw permits approved for 20,329 residential buildings, a figure easily eclipsed by the 33,170 permits issued back in 2008. One onlyneed reflect on the estimated 8,300 or so “filing representatives,” better known as expediters, hired by builders to stand in line at the Department of Buildings, to comprehend the inefficiency that persists.

The government is understandably cautious when it comes to large-scale, multi-unit developments, which are often at the mercy of banking and market conditions. However, a different attitude is required when it comes to smaller developments. Typically completed in two or three years, they are less dependent on complex loans, more straightforward to monitor and less likely to be delayed. In other words, they can quickly add quality inventory for regular New Yorkers.

For City Hall, this is the ideal equation and the kind of initiative it should be eager to encourage. And yet, it is these projects in particular which suffer from Buildings Department foot-dragging. Arecent performance report from the Mayor’s Office of Operations revealed that Alteration-1 applications (one of four types of construction permits), which include interior conversions typically at the heart of small-scale developments, are delayed 16% longer than other building applications.

This anomaly can be partly attributed to an increase in Alt-1 applications stemming from the economic upturn. Evidence suggests that last year and in 2013, about half of the total building permits issued were for Alt-1 applications, compared with one-third in 2007. Yet the actual number of annual Alt-1 permits issued had not increased during that time. General permit processing is also likely slowed down by the city-wide building code changes which took effect at the start of 2015. The inevitable adjustment period has only prolonged the permit application process. And there is little doubt that February’s bribery and corruption scandal, which engulfed more than a dozen Department of Buildings employees, has damaged the agency’s capability.

However, when you consider that between 2008 and 2012, agency staff was cut to 1,000 from 1,200 employees, it seems that there is a longer-term problem at play. City Hall apparently failed to anticipate New York’s construction boom and simply remains ill-equipped to handle the demand.

In short, during the same period in which New York’s housing squeeze has tightened, the Buildings Department has seen its proficiency curbed. The correlation is unmistakable. Rectifying the situation requires not only additional resources for the agency but also a clarification of its priorities. Small-scale development must top the list. Global investors will continue to pour their wealth into New York real estate. However, they are well aware that they could see a relatively quick return on modest residential developments, rather than throw their lot in with bigger, more ambitious and inherently riskier projects. And there is little doubt that there is a genuine demand from tenants. New Yorkers are screaming out for quality new housing. The only significant factor standing in the way? City Hall’s bureaucratic will. The time has come to loosen the administrative shackles.



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Building Trades Employers’ Association (BTEA) president Louis Coletti has announced an industry-wide plan to increase safety for the public and workers on construction sites in New York City.

In testimony before the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, Coletti announced the Zero Tolerance Initiative.

The Initiative includes recommendations to the City Council to amend the New York City Building Code, programs for contractors and labor to increase safety.


The BTEA represents 27 contractor associations, and 2,000 union construction managers, general contractors and specialty trades contractors doing business in the city.

“Public and worker safety is the highest priority for BTEA contractors and the important changes we are recommending reinforces our members’ commitment to making job sites accident-free,” said Coletti.

“Union builders are already taking important steps to ensure safety and we strongly believe those steps should be applied across the industry. Our personnel policies compel our supervisors to remove any worker from a site where they cause an accident that endangers public or worker safety – and we think that should extend to every job in this city.”

The “Zero Tolerance Initiative” recommendations for projects 10 stories or higher include the following mandatory provisions:

• Installation of a cocoon system for concrete projects that will provide additional protection to the public from debris or material that may fall from these high-rise buildings and provide an additional level of worker protection.

• The increased cost of this requirement can be offset by the opportunity to sell signage on the cocoon, a practice which is done in other cities worldwide.

• Mandatory drug and alcohol testing.

• Crane operator signed inspection verification that the equipment they will be operating has been inspected per shift – similar to OSHA requirements for inspections per shift.

For projects below 10 stories, the BTEA is recommending that every worker receive a 10-hour OSHA training card, which is the same procedure that is required on public works projects over $250,000 in New York State and also required for projects in New York City 10 stories and above.


The BTEA is also calling on the Council to allocate additional funding to the Buildings Department to increase safety. Over the last five years, there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of permits issued or renewed while at the same time the number of employees at the department has decreased by 20 percent.

The BTEA is also calling for greater support of the DOB’s Major Projects Initiative which they say has been marginalized by a lack of funding.

The Major Projects Initiative dedicates senior DOB manager and inspectors to working with developers, contractors and construction managers in pre-construction planning and during bi-weekly meetings.

According to the 2011 Buildings Department Annual Report, projects that used this initiative saw 40 percent fewer accidents, 49 percent fewer violations and 82 percent fewer full “stop work orders” an indicator of safer job sites.

“Making sure the Department of Buildings has the resources it needs to protect New Yorkers and adequately staff and inspect sites is paramount to increasing safety,” said Coletti.


TCHC’s handling of plumbing trouble stinks

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TORONTO – Single mom Abigail Gordon was forced out of her Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) apartment due to a flood not of her making six months ago.

Her Islington Ave. unit has been sitting in disrepair since.

Gordon’s nightmare started in mid-November, just 15 days before she was to deliver her second son by C-section. The 36-year-old said when she awoke at 2:45 a.m. to visit the bathroom, she found herself ankle-deep in feces-infested sewage water.

The pipes she shares with a few other apartments had backed up, causing her toilet and her bathtub to overflow.

After waiting more than four hours for TCHC’s call centre to send someone, a plumber came to allegedly fix the leak, along with cleaners who sucked up the water and the feces.

No matter. The personal support worker (PSW), who is desperately trying to get her nursing credentials and make something of her life, says she lost a cellphone, a laptop, her carpet, her drapes and all of the diapers and assorted other gifts she’d received at her baby shower, held just 10 days before.

“The apartment was reeking,” she said during a visit to the unit last week.

She also twisted her back and her ankle when she went sliding in the water en route to the bathroom.

She’s had her baby and has been living in one bedroom with her parents in their two-bedroom apartment. She says every time she asked when she could move back, building officials and other TCHC staff kept telling her the repairs would get done — that they just needed more time because they have “more important emergencies.” In February, she says she decided to start replacing the stuff she lost and make the apartment “livable again” — hoping she’d soon get a transfer to another apartment.

Her plan was to move in Feb. 19 — until she got a call from a neighbour on Feb. 16 advising her another feces-infested flood had occurred in her unit.

She lost everything she’d bought to replace what she had lost last November — a second laptop, carpet, draperies, pillows and bedding.

“The first repair had been botched and never done properly because this was worse,” she said.

When I visited the apartment last week, it was dark and dank and reeked of mould. Drawers had been pulled out and possessions moved by the contractors and not put back. An army of cockroaches scurried by us more than a few times.

But the most telling was the exposed pipes in the bathroom walls.

Desperate for help — meaning a transfer elsewhere — Gordon contacted her councillor, Rob Ford, in March. According to an e-mail exchange she provided to me, Ford put her in touch with Barry Thomas, TCHC’s Central Parliament Operating Unit manager.

He told her via e-mail on March 31 that her application (for a transfer) had been approved that morning and he would subsequently have to “kick it upstairs.

“I will let u know how it went with my director,” Thomas wrote, signing off with a “Keep in touch!” Since then nothing.

Rexdale Legal Clinic is pursuing a claim for loss and damages, as well as therapy for Gordon’s back, which is so sore it will make her work as a personal support worker at a retirement home difficult to do (when she returns from maternity leave). Gordon said she’s had to put off continuing her nursing studies at George Brown College until next January because of her lack of stable living arrangements.

Efforts to get comments from TCHC last week proved to be an insurmountable task.

New spokesman Lisa Murray claimed they can’t share personal information about a tenant without the “consent” of the tenant.

She subsequently suggested I hold my story because there were “details I don’t have” that will “impact my story.” When I informed Murray that it was impossible for Gordon to sign the form, send ID, scan all of it in and e-mail it to TCHC because she had no scanner, she was sick and had to access an outside venue to do so by bus — and I suggested consent be provided by phone, Murray altered her comments to “written consent” is required under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA).

I did not hear back from her when I responded that I could not find anything in MFIPPA stipulating written consent.

I asked Gordon what Murray might mean by “details.” She said that even though she informed the building manager last May that she was taking time off from her nursing studies, the manager was lackadaisical about reassessing her rent — she has yet to do so — and is likely trying to blame her now for not increasing her rent sooner.

She told me after she met with me last week she cried like crazy.

“End of day I work very hard to save what I can,” she said. “Their behaviour is so inhumane.”