New York’s public housing could be on the verge of a climate breakthrough

In 1993, when the new hit “Whoomp! There It Is” boomboxes sounded in all five boroughs, the New York City Housing Authority discovered a problem.

A highly efficient refrigerator, which required almost 30% less electricity to keep food cold, had just arrived on the market. But the device was too big for the nearly 200,000 government-controlled apartments, housing nearly as many people as Wyoming.

NYCHA and state energy officials have therefore launched an offer to manufacturers: build an efficient refrigerator that can fit in an apartment, and we guarantee that we will buy at least 20,000 of them. The program has proven to be a huge success, and the winning manufacturer Maytag has finally produced a device that transformed the market.

NYCHA wants to do it again. But this time, the device in question is designed to regulate the temperature of the whole house, not just the grocery store.

The Housing Authority announced this week that it is moving forward with plans to develop and purchase new efficient and stylish heat pumps for a pilot program.

The heat pump designed by Midea America is featured in a NYCHA promotional image.

Heat pumps are essentially two-way air conditioners and are widely considered the most efficient and convenient way to heat buildings without fossil fuels. As hardware improvements make heat pumps more versatile and reliable than ever, policymakers are scrambling to deploy them as quickly as possible, especially as high fuel prices threaten to make keeping warm this expensive winter. But heat pumps are still expensive to buy and install, and many on the market are designed for single-family homes, not compact apartments.

Once she gauged that challenge, Vlada Kenniff, NYCHA’s senior vice president of sustainability, said she immediately thought back to the refrigeration effort in the 1990s.

“We actually found a lot of people who worked on the original refrigerator program in the 1990s and really tried to figure out how it happened,” she said in an interview this week. “Early on in this project, we spoke to these program managers to understand how big the golden carrot is, how to capture manufacturers’ attention to make it worth opening up their specs and creating mass -produced on a scale that did not exist before?”

Before making an offer Last year, Kenniff has spoken with other public housing authorities across the state and nation and received letters of support expressing interest in purchasing all heat pumps from NYCHA’s proposal. Everything happened quickly.

On Tuesday, NYCHA and other state and city officials awarded $70 million in two seven-year contracts to two heat pump makers, New Jersey-based Midea America and Gradien , in California. Midea will manufacture approximately 20,000 devices; Gradien will produce the other 10,000.

The units are compact and cover the window sill, meaning they won’t block half the window like traditional air conditioners normally do.

NYCHA plans to run a pilot program for a year before placing the full order for all 30,000. Assuming there are no major issues, Kenniff said installations should begin in 2025.

“It taught us that we can be an anchor market for many other innovations,” she said. “We hope this is just one of many. We got this one right.

For many, a new method of heating couldn’t come soon enough. Virtually all of NYCHA’s buildings are heated with heaters that connect to gas-fired Scotch marine boilers, with fuel oil as backup.

In the late 1910s, New York City experienced a heating revolution. As the Spanish flu raged, the dense and fast-growing immigrant center designed its buildings’ radiator systems to get so hot that residents could keep windows open, providing airflow that could slow the spread of the pandemic.

In an undated file photo, a white cat sits atop a radiator somewhere in New York City.
In an undated file photo, a white cat sits atop a radiator somewhere in New York City.

Karen Tweedy-Holmes via Getty Images

The fuel used to make steam has changed over the past century, but this system remains in much of the city’s older housing stock, even as it removes tenant control over when the heat continues.

Born in the 1930s from the federal government’s response to the Great Depression, NYCHA has struggled for the past three decades as Clinton-era deregulation sought to push the nation’s public housing tenants back into the private market. . Mildew, cockroaches, and lead paint have regularly made residents sick, and radiators are often cold to freezing temperatures. Internal emails in 2015 revealed NYCHA had deliberately turned off the heating during freezing winter nights, despite complaints. In one case discovered by The New York Times, NYCHA residents lived without heat for 10 years.

The negligence and mismanagement prompted a federal investigation, which resulted in a agreement 2019 with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning to solve a host of problems, including heating.

Progress has been slow. In a single Bronx housing project in 2018, the heat went out 66 times during the coldest months, and 50 more times over the following two years. NY1 reported. More than 7,000 NYCHA residents lost heat and hot water during a cold snap in 2021.

“I turned on the oven, pots of water,” Nichelle Thompson, 53, a grandmother of a Manhattan housing project, told the TV station. Pix11 Last year. “I stay up all night because of the fumes. It’s not good for us.

Makeshift heating can quickly become deadly. Last January, a heater sparked a fire that killed 17 people in a private high-rise building in the South Bronx.

Heat pumps may not be a panacea. Sean Brennan, director of research at the Urban Green Council, a nonprofit for sustainable construction, said Grist earlier this year that if NYCHA didn’t pair its heat pumps with better insulation, window units might not keep apartments as warm as old radiators.

Kenniff said those concerns were the reason NYCHA would run tests before placing its full order of heat pumps.

The Henry Rutgers Houses, a public housing estate built and maintained by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), are on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
The Henry Rutgers Houses, a public housing estate built and maintained by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), are on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Drew Angerer via Getty Images

“We want to make sure our residents are comfortable and like them, and make sure they work with our window configurations and apartment space constraints,” she said. “We want to go through at least one heating season before we say all the boxes are checked.”

The plan then, Kenniff said, would be to start buying and deploying more, and phasing out the gas and oil boiler systems that heat most NYCHA buildings. This will be a bigger step. NYCHA already has gas-powered generators at facilities that lost power during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Kenniff said she hopes NYCHA can eventually replace them with batteries and solar panels that can keep the lights going as well. and heat pumps on even in the event of a power failure.

Electricity prices in New York are much higher than the national average, due to the state’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels and a market system that has failed to provide adequate incentives to the infrastructure needed to keep pace with the growing demand of the metropolis. This has made electric heating unappealing to many homeowners, who prefer the gas furnaces or oil boilers they are used to.

State-level government incentives, such as rebates of up to $10,000, are already beginning to tip the balance in favor of installing heat pumps. If the huge deal on climate spending that Democrats reached last week becomes law, homeowners who buy a heat pump will be able to claim a new federal tax credit of up to $2,000.

For low-income NYCHA residents, who don’t pay utility bills, that’s not much of an issue. But if those incentives spur a boom in heat pump installations around New York City, NYCHA residents could benefit. The agency said it plans to train and hire residents to help install heat pumps, providing experience that could spawn new careers.

“NYCHA is going through a transformation and we want to get it right,” Kenniff said. “As part of the process, we want to provide our residents with the opportunities that will ultimately be created through this transformation, whether it be training or work placements. I think it’s super key for everything.

The Huffington Gt

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