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Thursday, September 22, 2011

NY State Public Service Commission Conditionally Approves Urban American's Electricity Submetering Plan For Roosevelt Island's Roosevelt Landings/Eastwood Buildings - What Does That Mean For Residents?

Roosevelt Island's Assembly Member Micah Kellner provides this update on plan by Roosevelt Landings/Eastwood Landlord Urban American to install electricity submetering in Roosevelt Landings apartments.

 Image of Mr. Kellner Speaking at 2009 Eastwood/Roosevelt Landings Submetering Forum

According to Mr. Kellner: 
The Fight Against Submetering Continues

I have long questioned the appropriateness of submetering in affordable housing, particularly in a building like Roosevelt Landings. The building's poor insulation and clunky electric heat will result in enormous electric bills for tenants who are just trying to keep warm in the winter.

In 2008, Urban American, the owner of Roosevelt Landings, applied to the Public Service Commission (PSC) for permission to submeter tenants. The PSC initially approved the application because they were not aware of the negative impacts submetering would have on tenants living in affordable housing. I immediately led a coalition of local elected officials and tenant leaders to request a stay preventing submetering from moving forward. The PSC granted the stay requiring Urban American to complete several different tenant protection and energy efficiency measures before they could unilaterally submeter tenants.

After a year of refusing to negotiate with elected officials and tenant leaders, Urban American filed a new submetering plan that claimed to meet the PSC's requirements. I submitted hundreds of pages of documents to the PSC outlining how this plan continued to fall short of the Commission's order. At the recent September 15th hearing, the PSC gave Urban American's plan conditional approval with the stipulation that they return to the commission with evidence that they have met the following requirements:
  • Install a thermostat in each apartment
  • Install EnergyStar refrigerators
  • Complete comprehensive energy efficiency improvements in the building through NYSERDA's Multi-Family Performance Program
  • Fully inform tenants of things they can do to save electricity
To date, Urban American has not made any effort to fulfill these measures. The landlord has been given three years and they have still not even installed a single thermostat. At present, I have no reason to believe that Urban American has, or will, comply with the PSC's order.

Throughout this process, I have fought to ensure robust protections for tenants. I helped Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) apply for and receive a voucher from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to allow them to set utility allowances that reflect actual utility usage in the building. A utility allowance is a type of rent roll-back awarded to tenants who are now bearing the costs of utilities that were previously part of their rent. As opposed to the previous plan, which determined rates on a community wide basis, these new utility allowances will be based on electricity usage for similarly sized apartments in Roosevelt Landings and will include additional allowances for seniors and people with disabilities.

Submetering at Roosevelt Landings is not moving forward until Urban American satisfies the PSC's requirements. It is unconscionable that landlords are trying to dump their energy costs on tenants who are barely getting by, especially in these economically challenging times. I will continue to fight against submetering in affordable housing and for the protections that all tenants deserve.
I asked Mr. Kellner if the electricity charges would be included as additional rent for purposes of any potential eviction proceedings brought against a tenant. Mr. Kellner replied:
HCR will not allow Urban American to treat electric charges as added rent.
HCR is the NY State Homes and Community Renewal Agency which oversees the subsidized apartments at Roosevelt Landings.

I followed up by asking Mr. Kellner:
What about the market rate tenants and LAP tenants at Roosevelt Landings. Will their electricity charges be considered additional rent for purposes of possible eviction proceedings?
Mr. Kellner replied:
That is unclear, but we are working to insure it isn't considered rent. 
I asked Roosevelt Landings Residents Association President Joyce Mincheff to comment. Ms. Mincheff replied:
Our Assemblyman, Micah Kellner, has ducked the slings and arrows of Urban American to champion our cause once again! The tenants of Roosevelt Landings owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude!

No one from the Public Service Commission stepped foot in our building. If they had, they would know what a Professional Engineer and Certified Energy Manager knows about submetering our building: the building is so poorly constructed that even if thermostats were installed, the room temperature would rarely rise to the temperature they were set at in order to turn off the heaters.

1. The construction of the building, while architecturally unique, requires elevated levels of insulation, not the insulation level required by state code, the weakest level possible in the state of NY. Without appropriate insulation, rooms will simply not get warm.

2. Repeated jut-outs throughout the facade, varying roof heights, multiple exposures, concrete floors that conduct the cold, leaky window lintels, cheap windows, an overabundance of unrepaired expansion joints, antiquated heaters and an antiquated heating system all contribute to the barbaricness of the Public Service Commission's decision.

3. Common usage bundled into apartment wiring, regardless of the sworn self-serving affidavit the landlord submits, is evident to anyone who knows 1970s construction. The assumption that by some miracle, the 4 sets of buildings covered by Urban American's sub-metering application, even though they were built with the vission that the landlord would cover all electric costs regardless of where such wiring existed, is beyond absurd.

4. Education..... please! Our tenants don't need to be educated to know to put on a sweater to cut their energy costs.....They already wear them because their apartments are just plain cold. How cold? if you go to the laundry rooms in the winter, you'll see them wearing their gloves and jackets to wash their clothes. Heat simply is not retained inside our walls. Our elderly wear sweaters to bed at night. The insult of being educated to reduce your TV use by $3 per month while the landlord rips hundreds of dollars from your pocket by its failure to repair the insulation in your walls is outrageous. Shame on this landlord, and shame on the Public Service Commission!

The fact that the Public Service Commission reversed itself on the issue of not allowing the landlord to evict tenants when they can't pay their outrageous electric bills is downright Barbaric. It shows just how low the institutions of government, that one would think of as protective, will sink for a price. The old-boy network still reigns supreme and, for the affluent who can put big bucks in the right pockets, even Barbaric decisions can be bought.

While DHCR and HPD may have a solution to the eviction problem for subsidized tenants, and we will all pray that's the case, it may not solve the issue of eviction for non-payment of unfair and outrageous electric bills among LAP and Fair Market tenants.

The Roosevelt Landings Tenant Association has joined with all the former Putnam Portfolio buildings to oppose the landlord's farce masquereding as "greening" the building. Rather than reducing the carbon footprint by earnest conservation methods, the Public Service Commission has given permission to Urban American to lock in outrageous, wasteful energy practices and shown us all how blind they are to the needs of the public they are sworn to serve. We are not throwing in the towel. It is only a battle, not the war.

Joyce Mincheff
President
Roosevelt Landings Residents Association
I asked Urban American's representative at Roosevelt Landings Doryne Isely to comment. Ms. Isely replied:
Thank you for the opportunity to respond.
We’re pleased with the Public Service Commission’s decision and believe it reflects the work we did with residents, community leaders and elected officials to improve the plan. We’re committed to making Roosevelt Landings as environmentally sound a building as practically possible and look forward to working with the residents to achieve that goal.

1 comments :

Mark Lyon said...

In December of 2012, the PSC announced significant changes to the electrical submetering regulations. Details of these changes are available at http://www.dps.ny.gov/Submetering.html

My building, Manhattan Park, engages in submetering. I intend to approach the management about three major changes in the law:

1) Submeterers must now allow for levelized billing plans that prevent wide swings in power bills, and;

2) Submeters shall be equipped with viewable registers, accessible to the resident so the resident may monitor their own kWh consumption or shall provide alternate mechanisms to allow residents to monitor their own consumption such as through a computer program, and;

3) Landlords can no longer consider utility charges as "additional rent", the non-payment of which could be used as a basis for eviction.

Manhattan Park residents currently pay time-of-use charges, cannot check our own meters and have utility charges included as additional rent in bills that are often delivered after the due date.