NYC’s looming, self-inflicted housing-affordability crisis

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Happy “State of the. . .” season! That time of year when elected leaders give optimistic enumerations of their plans for the state, city, district or whichever fiefdom they govern. This year, as in the recent past, New York’s housing-affordability crisis will take center stage. Yet despite that, the city is on pace to implement the costliest and most punishing mandates on residents in modern history.

No, I am not talking about the gas-stove ban — but close.

This seldom-discussed policy is Local Law 97, or the Climate Mobilization Act, set to start phasing in next year. When that happens, the only New Yorkers mobilized by this act will be those continuing the flight to lower-cost states down south.

The law demands an unattainable greenhouse-emission standard in existing buildings more than 25,000 square feet, condo and co-op developments more than 50,000 square feet and buildings with up to one-third of units rent-stabilized.

If you’re a New York City apartment dweller, the odds are overwhelming that you’re living in a building targeted by eco-woke zealotry. A 2019 Wall Street Journal survey found that 20% of all buildings would face fines in the law’s first year, a figure that jumps to 80% by 2030.

Brownstone apartment houses in Manhattan,
The climate bill gives unrealistic standards for building owners in New York City.
Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

And the penalties that eventually will be passed down to you are massive.

Failure to comply with Local Law 97 in its first year will result in fines of $268 per metric ton of carbon dioxide over the limit. Within five years, it more than doubles to $583.

What does that mean in practical terms? The Cotocon Group, a noted sustainability consulting firm, published an alarming case study on the law’s fine structure. A sample 150,000-square-foot residential building with a mid-range Energy Star score of 43 will face an annual fine of $167,000 by 2029. Thus if this hypothetical building has 100 condo units, each owner would be responsible for about $1,670 per year.

So much for any promise of alleviating our affordability crisis.

You should also cast aside any hope your building might just squeak by in compliance.

Consider this example. In 2010, One Bryant Park opened its doors as one of the first buildings in the world to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum status. It was widely feted as the city’s greenest. Al Gore, the godfather of climate alarmism himself, not only cut the inaugural ribbon but leased space in the building to house his eco-friendly investment firm.

Yet, despite its accolades and next-generation efficiency, it will be slapped with an estimated $2.5 million annual fine.

That is surely “An Inconvenient Truth” for Local Law 97’s proponents.

The Bank of America Tower
Elected officials are expected to give speeches with their plans for the city, and the housing-affordability crisis is expected to be front and center.
Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS

The crippling cost of compliance is so severe, the city saw fit to exempt its own buildings, meaning some of the Big Apple’s oldest carbon-challenged structures, including those the New York City Housing Authority owns, are spared. Perhaps the issue is not so urgently existential after all.

But if your building attempts to comply, we aren’t just talking about cutting the pipes to those gas stoves. This law requires massive overhauls of existing structures and HVAC systems.

The board president of Glen Oaks Village, a middle-class Queens co-op with 2,900 units, testified at a City Council hearing last year that the cost to convert their 47 boilers will amount to more than $20 million, or $7,000 per apartment, plus a 5% increase in maintenance costs. Yet even after the change, the law’s emission algorithm would still bang them out for an $800,000-per-year fine.

To make matters worse, many building managers and owners recently incurred massive costs to convert heating units from oil to gas to comply with the previous round of climate mandates. Now those will be noncompliant, even if the boilers aren’t yet paid off.

This is the sort of “Let them eat cake” or “Ban gas stoves” policy that rarely works its way into the “State of” speeches each January, despite affordability and climate resiliency being the topics du jour. And policies like this, once handed over to woke technocrats, only get worse.

The Buildings Department, for example, has so far refused to recognize carbon-capture technology — good enough for submarines and spaceships, mind you — as a valid method to lower building emissions as well as the cost of compliance. If the goal is truly to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this technology should be celebrated. But I suspect punishing us bourgeois fossil-fuel users is the real impetus.

This is where policy must meet politics. Local Law 97 will take effect right around the time Mayor Eric Adams is seeking re-election. Let’s make sure the voices of the climate-change cultists aren’t the only ones he hears. Affordability is the first crisis he must resolve.

Joe Borelli is the minority leader of the New York City Council.

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