Alongside NYCHA residents and climate activists, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney announced the introduction of her Public Housing Solar Equity Act outside the Astoria Houses Community Center in Queens on Friday, April 23.
Maloney explained that the act would ensure that when a public housing authority such as NYCHA sells or leases assets to private companies for the installation of solar panels, the energy generated would be offered to all tenants in that development before the housing authority can sell any remaining energy generated to the rest of the non-resident market. Profits from selling excess power should be reinvested into the housing development.
The congresswoman also highlighted the need for the Green New Deal for Public Housing, legislation that was introduced by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey, which Maloney co-sponsors. The act would invest up to $172 billion over 10 years, replacing outdated and crumbling infrastructure with environmentally friendly and energy-efficient technology, improving the living conditions of millions of public housing residents across the country.
“Climate change is one of the most important challenges we face in our country and our city, and our most vulnerable communities are where we are really feeling the brunt of it,” Maloney said. “We must focus on climate justice, and that means investing into a green future for public housing. So we have a better proposal, and that is to invest in green energy, not only to help the environment but to help the development.”
The financially strapped New York City Housing Authority, the largest public housing authority in the nation, faces a repair backlog of $31.8 billion. Tenants have complained about mold, leaks, rodent infestation and failing infrastructure like broken elevators and no heat for a long time and sometimes have to wait for months or even years to have those issues addressed.
NYCHA has proposed the sale or lease of public housing grounds to private developers, often at market rate, to fill the financial gap, and NYCHA residents and advocates fear that such measures would push out tenants.
Claudia Coger, the president of the Astoria Houses Residents’ Association, raised seven children in Astoria Housing.
“We are here to represent Astoria Houses, and we know it inside out. We are here to ensure that we are being served properly and especially with the environment. We sit between two power plants, and that’s causing our children to have asthma pumps at home and at school. These are expenses that come out of people’s pockets.”
Saundrea I. Coleman, the co-founder of the Holmes-Isaacs Coalition and co-chair of The Social Justice Committee of Manhattan Community Board 8, said that NYCHA’s investment in public housing has tremendously decreased over the year, creating severe environmental issues, and welcomed the bills because they created a sense of hope for public housing residents.
Coleman, who has been fighting the privatization of public housing, urged Congress to pass both bills.
“The Public Housing Solar Equity Act, the Green New Deal, as well as other bills that will stir funding into public housing should be passed to preserve the homes of residents and see to it that we will be able to live and humane conditions,” she said. “Enough is enough. People are living in very deplorable conditions, and it’s time that the city, state and federal government fully fund public housing, not just in New York City but throughout the country.”
La Keesha Taylor, co-founder of the Holmes-Isaacs Coalition and graduate of the Movement School, grew up in NYCHA housing and lives with her two young sons in Holmes Towers in Yorkville. She shared that her children don’t want to take the elevator out of fear of getting stuck and that part of a three-year-old sink fell on her son.
“Bills like this are going to enrich our lives. Bills like the Green New Deal With will strengthen Section Three, which helps people like us move forward. They strengthen our ability to go to school. They give us stipends of $250 to make sure that we can prosper. They strengthen the ability to educate ourselves, to educate our community,” said Taylor, who helped draft the Green New Deal bill and is NYCHA resident advocate.
Stan Morse, a candidate for Queens borough president and the lead organizer for the Justice for All Coalition, referred to the deplorable conditions at NYCHA as an environmental disaster.
“I support the Green New Deal for Public Housing. We are living in an environmental disaster with no gas and no heat. It’s outrageous, and something has to be done now. We can not afford to wait. People are dying,” Morse said.
Congresswoman Maloney explained that her and AOC’s bills are separate from Chuck Schumer’s push to invest at least $80 billion into public housing infrastructure, double the amount the Biden administration has proposed.
“There is a federal grant that goes to public housing from the federal government, and we would like to get the amount of the federal grant to be higher. But that’s for repairs, and that’s to maintain as it exists now. The Green New Deal is saying that if you repair a window, make it a green window, a window that preserves the heat in the building so that you don’t need more energy. When you’re repairing the gas lines, instead of it being gas, move to electricity with green energy, as we go forward,” Maloney said.