UNHP’s June 24th Cost of Water Forum drew a crowd of 80 people to Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus to begin the next phase of discussion about UNHP’s proposal to make the charge for water and sewer more equitable for affordable housing. Invited panelists from The S.W.I.M. Coalition, and Enterprise Community Partners discussed their work around the issue of water, equitable rates and conservation. Fordham Vice-President and UNHP Board member, Dr. Brian Byrne, served as the moderator and opened the forum with an acknowledgement that water is both an international and a local issue and equitable water rates are clearly a part of the preservation of affordable housing in NYC.
Jim Buckley and Johanna C. Kletter presented the UNHP Affordable Water for Affordable Housing Report which concluded with a call for an affordable housing cap on water charges for buildings that are either under existing affordable housing regulatory agreements or willing to enter such an agreement. The presentation documented the disproportionate impact of the cost of water on affordable housing citing two similar sized buildings in the Bronx and the east side of Manhattan. The Bronx building is paying 10% of its rental income for water and the East Side building is paying 2% of its rental income. The report also identified other areas for additional research to accomplish water conservation and affordable water rates.
Jamie Stein, the chair of the S.W.I.M. Coalition, outlined the Coalition’s proposal to call on the City Council to pass legislation requiring the City and DEP to examine alternative ways of charging for stormwater run-off. Those alternatives should be sensitive to the possible impacts on rates and should look at spreading costs related to run-off differently. Jamie cited an example of a warehouse with low use of water inside the building, but high stormwater run-off in its cement parking lot as an example of a user that pays little and yet creates expenses to the system. Stormwater Infrastructure Matters (S.W.I.M.) is a coalition dedicated to ensuring swimmable waters around New York City through natural, sustainable stormwater management practices in our neighborhoods. This approach is environmentally and fiscally responsible because it utilizes stormwater, currently viewed as waste, as a resource.
Laurie Schoeman, Program Coordinator for Green Communities, presented the water-saving initiatives of the Green Communities programs of Enterprise. Laurie cited specific examples of green housing initiatives that were cost effective to the project. In many cases new affordable housing projects, through Green Communities and other conservation programs, are taking the lead in NYC around energy and water conservation. Laurie pointed out that low-income communities have the most to gain from green and conservation measures.
The Cost of Water Forum was just one of the many actions UNHP has taken this spring to bring parties together to discuss the water rate system. 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. UNHP shared its newly issued report with the 5 members present at the Bronx Water Board hearing. 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. WNYC ran a week-long series on water in June, including UNHP and its work in the series, and City Limits also covered the issue.
Jim Buckley called the forum an important next step in the discussion and the effort to develop a new way of charging affordable housing for water. Comments at the May New York City Water Board meeting made it clear that the UNHP report has helped to focus City attention on this issue. UNHP hopes to capitalize on this attention and to work with groups like S.W.I.M. and Enterprise Community Partners to press the issue forward over the summer.