Friday, May 6, 2011

New report says hiring NYCHA tenants for green jobs, repairs would lower unemployment, save money

Green jobs could be the silver bullet for problems faced by New York City Housing Authority residents, from drafty windows and moldy bathrooms to obesity, according to a new report by South Bronx community groups.

Training and hiring hundreds of residents to build green roofs, make repairs and install energy-efficient appliances would save NYCHA money, reduce unemployment and improve public health, the report stated.

"Green jobs are a win-win," said Nova Strachan, housing organizer for Mothers on the Move. "People that live in public housing need jobs and our public housing developments need repairs."

NYCHA residents in the South Bronx lack access to leafy public spaces and supermarkets with fresh produce, according to the report. Green roofs built and tended by residents could address both problems.

"There's a reason we call the projects the concrete jungle," said Yves Filius, 26, a Mott Haven Houses resident.

Based on surveys by Mothers on the Move and the Urban Justice Center, the report urged NYCHA to launch a South Bronx Green Jobs Institute. It claims the agency could start by training 500 residents to retrofit NYCHA buildings, requiring a $5 million investment, with $1.2 million coming back to the agency in rent from newly employed residents.

Projects could include installing new ventilation systems and fixing leaks that lead to asthma-aggravating mold. The institute would help pay for itself through energy savings, said Lindsay Cattell of the Urban Justice Center.

But NYCHA is facing a $42 million deficit and can't afford to operate an institute of its own, said Margarita Lopez, the agency's environmental coordinator.

Only 6% of unemployed NYCHA residents have college degrees and the number of households owing the agency back rent is on the rise, according to the report. Of residents surveyed, 97% were interested in green jobs.

But NYCHA already boasts green programs, Lopez said. It has purchased tens of thousands of new appliances, trained residents to plant trees and begun a $371 million push to retrofit its buildings, even hiring residents to green the Castle Hill Houses.

"NYCHA has changed the way we do business," said Lopez, calling it "a green machine for jobs."

The agency has created 200 jobs for South Bronx residents since August 2009, but "is not the Department of Labor" and must focus on housing, Lopez said.

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