Re-Skin Public Housing

Fred Harris

Most of NYCHA’s buildings are 50-75 years old with billions of dollars in deferred maintenance. There’s a capital investment backlog of $6 billion today, increasing at a rate of $3 million daily. Rent from NYCHA residents covers at most 50% of the operating budget. So while NYCHA is a great success — providing housing for 1 out of 13 New Yorkers — it is also struggling to remain solvent. The habitability of its buildings will soon be threatened if capital investments are not forthcoming.

I propose to locally manufacture and apply new skins to the facades of our aging public housing stock. These skins would contain space to replace plumbing and electrical infrastructure and add new through-the-wall PTAC heating and air conditioning units and insulation without having to disturb residents’ apartments nor to remove or extensively repair the existing brick facades. I estimate that the cost of re-skinning would amount to about $100,000 per apartment, or $17.8 billion for all NYCHA properties. (Additional money would be needed to renew apartment interiors and replace central plants.) 

This program could essentially finance itself through savings from electricity alone. NYCHA residents without electric meters use 6,750 kWh a year on average, whereas the average rental in the Northeast uses 4,513 kWh a year. By halving the electric utility bill, we could save about $200 million a year, which could support as much as $5 billion of investment. If it were possible to resell electricity which NYCHA secured years ago for what is now a very low price, a similar amount could be generated. Proportionally, even greater savings would come from heating through the potential decline in NYCHA’s annual gas and oil expenditures.

Fred Harris is the Executive Vice President of Development of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). He previously served as the Senior Vice President of Development for AvalonBay Communities. The views expressed herein are those of Mr. Harris, not NYCHA.

Image: Kohn Pedersen Fox.