May 13, 2015

Bronx Groups Testify at Water Board Hearing & UNHP’s Housing Cap Proposal Receives Support


On April 29th, a group of UNHP staff, affordable housing managers and building owners testified in front of the Water Board at their Bronx hearing held at Hostos Community College. UNHP shared its newly issued “Affordable Water for Affordable Housing: A Proposal for An Affordable Housing Cap for Water and Sewer Rates” report with  5 members present at the Bronx Water Board hearing.

UNHP’s Jim Buckley distributed the report to Water Board members and testified. “We have always testified against rate increases and tonight is no exception.  The difference tonight is that we are also submitting our report Affordable Water for Affordable Housing for your consideration.  We provide documentation to support our case that there should be a special rate for buildings with affordability regulatory agreements.  Specifically, we are proposing a $688 per apartment per year Affordable Housing Cap.  To be eligible, buildings would either be currently under a regulatory agreement with affordability restrictions, or be willing to enter one.  Buildings would have to comply with requirements of the Multifamily Conservation Program and implement a water conservation awareness program for tenants and building staff.”

Ray Alter, spoke on behalf of Dougert Management, the manager for over 3,000 affordable units in Bronx and Brooklyn. Dougert Management has found that for 2014, “a number of the low income properties we manage actually show water expenses that are higher than heating costs.” Ray went on to support UNHP’s proposal and the urgent need to protect affordable housing from ever increasing water and sewer costs.

A Tale of Two Buildings: The Bronx building pays 8% of the average annual per apartment rent towards water, while the Manhattan building pays 2% of the average annual per apartment rent towards water. Both buildings need the same infrastructure to have water and sewer service. The contrast is clear and illustrates the inequity of current water rate charges.

Patrick Logan of the Lemle Wolffe Companies, manager of 6,000 apartment buildings primarily in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx, delivered testimony in support of UNHP’s proposal. “…the increase is really quite significant to affordable multifamily buildings taking into account the already high percentage that water and sewer represent of both total maintenance and operations costs and overall income.  … a cap would help facilitate the ability of housing operators to preserve 120,000 units over the next ten years rather than to permit the escalation of water and sewer charges to serve as an obstacle to this goal.”

The report appears to making a positive impact.  At the May 8th NYC Water Board meeting, Board Member Adam Freed made several points about the proposed rate increase and included UNHP in his remarks. “…Third, is to support additional options to mitigate rate increases for multifamily affordable housing units, that I point out, the University Neighborhood Housing Program put together a terrific report with a number of suggestions to look at for future years.”   Water Board Executive Director and DEP Deputy Commissioner Steve Lawitts said in response, “In terms of the affordable housing, we really took that to heart and our commissioner and the Commissioner of HPD have had a couple of conversations just this week.  And also at the staff level, we have received an exchange of data with HPD…..Then we can start to look at the implications of various policy changes for those buildings, their managers and tenants as well as the economics of the water system.”  The whole meeting is on the NYC Water Board site. Board Member David Freed’s comments about the UNHP report start at 19:56 in the tape and Deputy Commissioner’s comments in response conclude at 23:26, which can be seen here.

The report used Rent Guidelines Board data and water expense and usage data on a number of affordable buildings in the City to document the disproportionate impact water costs have on affordable housing.  Some of the data for the report was collected and shared by citywide and Bronx affordable housing owners and managers.

The conclusion of UNHP’s report proposes a reduced water and sewer rate cap for buildings based on conservation and affordability commitments as an initial step in an effort to create an equitable rate setting formula. This proposed program would create a significant incentive to keep buildings from opting out of affordability regulatory agreements and a new tool to encourage owners to enter into regulatory agreements around affordability.

UNHP will continue to work with HPD, DEP, affordable housing building owners and managers to fight for an affordable housing cap and a more equitable water and sewer rate determination. Contact to get involved.