Earlier this week Mayor de Blasio released his eagerly awaited plan to create and/or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in New York City.

Environmentalists were particularly interested in what the plan had to say about incorporating more energy efficiency and climate resiliency measures into the city’s affordable housing stock. [See pages 55 through 59 of the Mayor’s plan for details.]

As Gotham Gazette noted, “the rise in energy costs could continue to push rents higher and thus turn more currently affordable units unaffordable, particularly for low-income residents.”

In response, de Blasio’s housing plan calls for a pilot outreach program aimed to slow rising utility costs.

Making Climate Resiliency Affordable

The de Blasio administration is also tackling a major challenge faced by New York and presumably other coastal cities: incentives for resiliency upgrades in federal flood zones tend to be focused on single-family, free-standing homes, not the multi-family, higher density building stock found in the five boroughs.

FEMA has added 29,000 residential properties to the city’s flood maps. Elevating a single-family home is a major endeavor; elevating a high-rise development in Far Rockaway is simply not possible, says the de Blasio administration.

And the administration has made it clear that it will not evacuate coastal neighborhoods.

The de Blasio team says that it will “advocate for the creation of flood protection standards that reflect the unique characteristics of New York City’s dense built environment…[such as] recognition of other forms of risk reduction other than elevating structures.”

And the administration plans to directly assist affordable housing owners with preparing their buildings for climate change.

The plan states: “We will explore the creation of a loan program to assist low-, moderate-, and middle-income owners in newly designated flood zones to perform resiliency upgrades. In some cases, these loans could be combined with other forms of incentives in exchange for an affordability agreement.”

Re-thinking Development in New York City: the connection between equity and sustainability

One of the most intriguing sustainability components of the de Blasio plan is its interest in re-thinking where and how new development happens in New York City.

The plan “takes a comprehensive approach that will create new housing near transit hubs and encourage infrastructure upgrades and new parks,” said Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, in an email. This will alleviate “many hidden environmental costs that burden low-income New Yorkers,” she added.

“Our planning will be based upon a transit-oriented development approach,” stated the mayor’s report. Renewing the city’s commitment to transit-oriented housing development makes sense for sustainability and social equity says the de Blasio administration.

“Economic opportunity depends not only on affordable housing, but also access to schools, employment, shopping, and other services, both within the neighborhood and beyond,” the plan argued.