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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



The Carbon Challenge

No one could accuse Michael Bloomberg of going out with a whimper. His dozen-year tenure as mayor of New York City ended with a flurry of activity, most notably a last-minute push to approve $12 billion worth of real estate projects, including a $2 billion residential complex on the Brooklyn waterfront, an office tower at Hudson Yards, and even a massive skating rink in the Bronx.

Lost in this blizzard of high-dollar, 11th-hour deals was a snowflake of an announcement with major long-term implications for co-ops and condos in the city. A few days before Christmas, as part of his six-year-old PlaNYC, Bloomberg rolled out the New York City Carbon Challenge, an ambitious effort to get the city’s three million units of multi-family 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 multi-family housing. 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, ten management companies have agreed to participate: Akam Associates, 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.”

Looking into the future, Kerr sees the residential phase of the Carbon Challenge as a way to smooth the transition between the mayoral administrations of two very different men – the billionaire Bloomberg, who was criticized for polarizing the city between the rich and everybody else, and Bill de Blasio, who campaigned against what he dubbed the “tale of two cities.”

“The Carbon Challenge is a nice transition between the administrations,” Kerr says. “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 multi-family housing, especially for the middle class and poorer people.”


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