New York City Housing Authority

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NYCHA “SpeaksGreen” to Educate Public
about Preserving Public Housing

NYCHA brought the third in its series of SpeakingGreen lectures to Baruch College last April, where public housing residents, the college community, and a cross section of concerned citizens heard a distinguished panel of 'green' leaders discuss strategies to protect the City's living environment and preserve public housing.

Jointly sponsored by NYCHA, the Clinton Climate Initiative, and the Baruch College School of Public Affairs, the forum - "Keeping the Promise & Sustaining the Dream through Green" - clearly emphasized NYCHA's vital stake and responsibility to be in the forefront of the City's sustainability efforts.

SpeakingGreen Lecture Series
(l to r) Peggy Shepard co-founder and Exec. Dir. of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Alexie Torres-Fleming founder and Exec. Dir. Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, and Margarita López, NYCHA Environmental Coordinator and Board Member
Photo credit: Pete Mikoleski

"Public housing was established in the Great Depression to create jobs through slum clearance," remarked NYCHA Chief of Staff Celeste Morgan Glenn, speaking on behalf of Chairman Ricardo Elías Morales. "Today, too, the government is infusing over $1 billion in capital funds for NYCHA to modernize buildings with fuel efficient boilers and instantaneous hot water heaters, and by repairing brick work," Ms. Morgan Glenn said. All of these improvements will make NYCHA more energy efficient and protect the environment.

As the discussion later revealed, NYCHA's second largest expense is energy and utilities, and 80 percent of the City's greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings. So when NYCHA improves the efficiency of its 2,618 residential buildings, it saves money and the City's environment.

Finding Solutions
In a relaxed conversational setting, the discussion was led by NYCHA Environmental Coordinator and Board Member, Margarita López, who moderated a panel of three environmentalists. The panelists differed in their approaches to a solution, yet agreed that local leadership and an organized response to challenges are essential.

Alexie Torres-Fleming, who grew up in NYCHA's Bronx River Houses, and later founded Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, shared a number of practical energy conservation measures that can help reduce NYCHA's significant budget deficits, including the installation of dual pane windows, low-wattage light bulbs, Energy Star appliances and repairing building envelopes (exterior walls) so they can better retain heat.

SpeakingGreen Lecture Series
Tria Case is exploring ways to significantly reduce CUNY’s “carbon footprint” primarily through the development of cost-effective solar energy.
Photo credit: Pete Mikoleski

Tria Case, University Director of Sustainability, City University of New York (CUNY), and Executive Director, Center for Sustainable Energy, Bronx Community College, says harnessing the sun's energy is a viable solution to reduce costs and energy consumption. "Flat roof buildings are ideal for locating solar panels, and the City is in the process of identifying where these opportunities exist," she said. Ms. Case is tasked with reducing CUNY's "carbon footprint" by 30 percent in ten years, primarily through the development of cost-effective solar energy.

And while solar panels may seem like a good idea, Peggy M. Shepard, co-founder and Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and a 2008 recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation's Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award, shed some light on the downside of using solar panels. "Manufacturing the equipment for cleaner, solar energy also may not be healthy," Ms. Shepard said. Transporting solar panels from abroad "can add to the carbon footprint." Still, Ms. Shepard agreed with the other panelists that something needs to be done and "people need to know how complex environmental issues affect their homes and families."

Education is precisely why the New York City Housing Authority began the SpeakingGreen lecture series in August of 2008. The lectures, which are open to NYCHA's workforce, residents, environmental advocates and members of the public at large, are designed to educate participants about NYCHA's efforts to conserve energy and to protect the City's environment. Each lecture features guest environmentalist(s) who discuss a range of topics that focus on environmental issues.

Abridged from an article by Howard Silver for the NYCHA Employee Bulletin
April 23, 2009

Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice
Sustainable CUNY
WE ACT for Environmental Justice