June 29, 2015

Cost of Water Forum Encourages Discussion about Equitable Water Rates, Conservation & UNHP Rate Cap


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.

(From right) Dr. Brian Byrne, Fordham University Vice President and UNHP Board member moderated the event. Panelists Laurie Schoeman, Program Director for Green Communities at Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.’s New York Office, Jaime Stein, Steering Committee Chair of the S.W.I.M. (Stormwater Infrastructure Matters) Coalition, Johanna C. Kletter, Deputy Director for Finance and Real Estate, UNHP and UNHP’s Executive Director Jim Buckley.

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.

A Tale of Two Buildings: The Bronx building pays 10% 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.

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.

The S.W.I.M. Coalition is calling for a more equitable system of water and sewer rates by separating out the costs associated with stormwater management.

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.

Enterprise Green Communities believes a systemic approach to curbing leaks, engaging tenants and managing storm water can provide positive results. Because tenants do not directly pay the water bills, their cooperation and engagement on conservation has often been overlooked.

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.

After the presentation, Dr. Brian Byrne moderated questions from those in attendance. The questions from private and not-for profit housing managers, developers and owners, foundations, community groups and legal representatives covered a range of topics including how the affordable housing cap would work, relief for low-income homeowners, rates for shelters and nursing homes as well as stormwater pricing.

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.

UNHP Links:

UNHP Blog, Views from the Northwest Bronx

UNHP Affordable Water Report

UNHP research and publication of Affordable Water for Affordable Housing was generously supported by Citi.