Arming its buildings against the impacts of climate change, we speak with Joy Sinderbrand, Vice President of the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Recovery and Resilience Department.
In a city that is home to over eight million people, and one that spends $3.5 billion annually on homelessness, the need for reliable public housing is critical.
As New York City, and indeed the rest of the world, weathers the extreme effects of climate change with shifting weather patterns bringing severe storms and unprecedented heavy rainfall, it is the vulnerable members of the population who are the most exposed.
In this climate, inadequate housing facilities are being tested like never before, often resulting in unliveable conditions for the tenants inside, in the form of rot, water damage, mold, and vermin infestations.
These effects are mostly prevalent in the slew of historic apartment buildings originally built throughout New York between 1945 and 1970 that are now in dire need of renovation. A 2021 report by Bloomberg estimated that the cost of undertaking repairs and restorations across the city’s housing projects increases by $1 billion, every single year.
Although the significant infrastructure plan proposed by President Joe Biden – but not passed by congress –offers some promise in rebuilding the country in the wake of COVID-19, the portion of funds allocated to public housing are slim – $40 billion across the whole of the US (not just New York City) of the total $1.7 trillion infrastructure allocation.
As the largest public housing authority in North America, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has the momentous task of preserving residents’ rights and protections whilst providing permanently affordable accommodation for a vast number of individuals seeking assistance in this area. Its services extend to approximately one in every five New Yorkers.
“Protecting existing public and affordable housing against the impacts of climate change is critical to New York City’s continued success,” states Vice President of the Recovery and Resilience Department at NYCHA, Joy Sinderbrand.
Since 1935, NYCHA has been the agency that people with low or moderate income have turned to obtain affordable housing. The Recovery and Resilience Department is an essential component of the work that NYCHA does.
Presently, the department is engaged in a $3.2 billion program dedicated to repairing the lasting damage in the aftermath of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. The funds are also being used to invest in precedent-setting resilience elements to protect various structures and infrastructure across NYCHA’s developments. This spans 35 developments, housing over 60,000 low-income New Yorkers.
“The Recovery and Resilience Department is preparing NYCHA’s portfolio and residents to withstand the impacts of climate change in synergy with the overarching agency goals and initiatives of other departments and City, State and Federal agencies,” she notes.
Sinderbrand herself brings considerable experience to the role, with a background spanning government work and developments to advance infrastructure investment and public-private partnerships. This has included work on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center and expanding the capacity of New York’s Penn Station during her time at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“I came to NYCHA because public housing is a critical piece of New York City infrastructure,” she says.
On a tangible level, NYCHA is implementing significant strategies to protect its own portfolio of over 2,500 multi-family buildings spread across five boroughs.
Stormwater solutions are currently in development on NYCHA campuses, as part of the agency’s partnership with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). To date, DEP has invested $13 million in five campuses, with an additional 14 under construction and 21 being designed. As a result of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Ida, a further $84 million is being invested in stormwater management at seven developments impacted by heavy rain and extensive flooding.
NYCHA is leveraging the DEP’s expertise to expand its own cloudburst protection designs and specifications, as a critical part of measures to reduce the neighborhood impact of heavy rainfall.
“We are working with landscape architects to design flood protection that is also part of the placemaking efforts at the sites and adds to the ground amenities and seating areas available to residents.”
Many of the agency’s largest projects funded by the recovery funds in the wake of Superstorm Sandy are still underway. These recovery plans include major structure and infrastructure improvements being implemented on fully occupied buildings.
“We want to complete as much of this work as possible by the 10th anniversary of the storm in October and anticipate almost $2.8 billion of investment at 35 campuses by that date.
“As part of the Sandy recovery and resilience scope, NYCHA is installing new heat and hot water systems at 20 campuses that are more energy efficient and emit less pollution than the boilers they replaced.”
The Energy and Sustainability Department’s work developing a solar infrastructure falls into the overall Sustainability Agenda, along with the ‘green retrofits’ it is undertaking to mitigate the environmental footprint across the developments. The energy savings resulting from this have been used to fund the installation of interior and exterior LED lighting and building management systems that will improve temperature control to prevent under-heating inside apartments.
The agenda also includes a host of additional energy efficiency, solar power, resource management and health and well-being efforts made by NYCHA. One such example includes NYCHA’s partnership with external companies to develop 1.8 megawatts (MW) of solar power on the rooftops of 27 buildings across its Queensbridge North and South developments.
“Over a dozen NYCHA residents were trained and hired to work on the installation crews,” Sinderbrand shares. “The Queensbridge solar system provide approximately 470 New York households with access to low-cost solar power below the ConEd residential rate.”
Additionally, NYCHA also has a solar lease that will cover 40 roofs at three other developments, which will eventually generate 1.2 megawatts of solar power, and facilitate the employment of a dozen NYCHA hires, and another 400 low- and moderate-income subscribers.
Across several of its new annexes that have been constructed to protect critical infrastructure from flooding, the agency has installed green roofs, not only as a beautification measure, but also for water retention purposes.
With the aim of protecting some of New York’s most vulnerable, NYCHA remains unwavering in its mission.
“As additional Federal and State grants become available, NYCHA is aggressively competing for additional resilience funding for developments at risk of impacts from extreme heat, rain, flooding and the effects of climate change,” Sinderbrand concludes.