Billions at stake as New York’s climate law ‘disadvantaged communities’ label leads avalanche of funds

New Yorkers’ knowledge of the environmental history of their neighborhoods could help the state decide where to target billions of dollars in green investments in the decades to come.

As state officials and agencies prepare to spend big on the clean energy economy to fulfill the mandates under a radical climate law passed in 2019some localities should get extra attention and money.

The goal is to repair past environmental wrongs and protect future populations more vulnerable to nature or injustice. The law specifies that “disadvantaged communities” must receive at least 35% of total state spending on energy and clean efficiency programs.

“We’re talking billions of dollars on the table here,” said Natalie Bump Vena, a professor of urban studies at Queens College who studies how the state enforces climate law. “What is at stake if the state is wrong? … You will have communities living with climate injustice who will not receive the resources that the legislation is intended to give them.

There is a proposal that defines where these disadvantaged areas should be, but not everyone agrees with the way these boundaries have been drawn so far.

“I am shocked that our area is not on the list,” said Amit Shivprasad, whose family owns a home on 183rd Street in Queens where two people drowned in a basement apartment when the remains of Hurricane Ida hit in September. “Our street is flooded every time it rains. How is that not part of it?

Under the current proposal, the Hollis area of ​​Shivprasad is not considered disadvantaged.

However, his block is in a basin, built on top of a pond. He and his neighbors treated repeated floods for years, what it is documented.

You might also be surprised to learn whether or not your block is listed as part of an underprivileged community. To find out, see the interactive menu the state created (Be patient, as it may be slow to load).

If your neighborhood is purple, it’s designated a “disadvantaged community” — meaning it’s guaranteed to receive special priority under state climate law.

If not, he will not be eligible for these specially designated funds.

If you do not agree with the assessment, you can inform the managers via this form on the Climate Law website, by sending a letter to the address indicated on this page or by sending a E-mail before July 7.

Before that, the state will also hold 11 public hearings in May and June for the public to offer in-person and remote commentary.

A law for climate justice

Under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection ActNew York must achieve a so-called carbon-neutral economy by 2050, primarily through increased use of clean energy sources and extensive electrification.

Reaching the goal will cost about $300 billion, according to estimates by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

The law not only aims to decarbonize the economy, but also represents an effort to rectify societal inequalities exacerbated by the effects of climate change in areas already facing difficulties. The CLCPA intends to prioritize reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and pollution in these areas.

The state’s Climate Justice Working Group (CJWG), comprised of representatives from environmental justice organizations, undertook a consultant-led, data-driven process to determine what areas the state would consider “disadvantaged.” “.

The group released a draft map in early March that shows that 35% of New York state’s census tracts are considered disadvantaged under the criteria. The five boroughs contain approximately 60% of these plots.

Tenants Phamatee Ramskriet, 43, and Khrishah Ramskriet, 22, drowned in September 2021 when Shivprasad’s Hollis basement flooded during Hurricane Ida. April 29, 2022.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

These sectors translate to approximately 50% of all households considered disadvantaged statewide, and in New York, nearly 60% of households.

The definition of each domain comes from the weighting of “45 indicators” representing environmental loads and risks – such as inland flooding and traffic density – as well as population characteristics and health vulnerabilities, such as emergency room visits for asthma-related symptoms and whether a household has internet access.

Any household with an income below 60% of the state median income – approximately $63,000 for a family of four — is also included as disadvantaged, but may not appear on the map.

These factors help “create the story of disadvantage,” said Sonal Jessel, policy director at WE ACT for Environmental Justice and a member of the CJWG.

“We view climate investments as something that means we create longer-term, sustainable improvements in the community,” she added.

A challenge the state will face is how to avoid spreading money too thinly for disadvantaged communities – how to allocate 35-40% of spending to more than 50% of households equitably and in a way that translates into solid results, along the lines of what Jessel describes.

Under the draft proposal, entire neighborhoods — such as Soundview and Mott Haven in the Bronx, College Point in Queens and South Williamsburg in Brooklyn — are considered disadvantaged.

The Hole, which straddles Queens and Brooklyn, is also considered disadvantaged under the proposal. This is a neighborhood where most residents are not connected to the city sewer system and have to deal with lakes of standing water on their streets.

But as the distribution is done by census tract, some neighborhoods, like Hollis, are cut out: some blocks are considered disadvantaged, others are not.

“They need to take another look”

While Hollis’s section of Shivprasad is not considered disadvantaged on the preliminary map, the census tract just three blocks south of her home, across Jamaica Avenue is.

Crossing the avenue, the neighborhood is more industrial than the neatly fenced plots of residential Hollis. Pockets of freestanding three-story homes sit among numerous auto repair shops, storage facilities, and the Long Island Railroad’s Hillside Maintenance Complex, with the elevated train line winding through it.

A state climate group map section shows the 'deprived' section of Hollis, Queens

A state climate group map section shows the ‘deprived’ section of Hollis, Queens
Screenshot/Map of disadvantaged communities in New York State

Vishal Hardwar, the chairman of Community Board 12’s land use subcommittee, lives a few blocks southwest of Shivprasad’s home in an area currently labeled as “deprived.”

“I can tell you when it rained this much in September, I didn’t have any flooding in my area and Amit had four feet of water,” Hardwar said. “So whoever drew this map, they just have to take another look at it, because it makes absolutely no sense when what happened to them, it’s not a one-time event.”

Whenever it rained, Shivprasad’s family made sure they had sandbags ready and the neighbors checked in with each other.

“That, to me, tells a story of hey, they’ve been dealing with this for a really long time, and something needs to be done about it,” Harwar said.

But none of the disadvantaged communities are set in stone yet. And even when the zones are finalized this summer, the CJWG must meet annually to review which areas are considered disadvantaged communities and can adapt as they see fit.

Money for a rainy day

The Hochul administration, which is aiming for 40% investment in “disadvantaged communities”, has already drunk millions of dollars investments for these areas, even before their definition has been officially defined.

The state will only count dollars spent to achieve the minimum 35% compliance target, even though agencies track related non-monetary benefits.

This includes investments for workforce development and pollution reduction that result in better air quality and better health, jobs and energy savings. Investments could be aimed at helping a region mitigate the effects of climate change, adapt to it or become more resilient.

“This is the first time in anyone’s memory that there is now a tool that will help transparently identify which neighborhoods face these particular vulnerabilities based on these [funding and pollution] disparities and how are we intentionally investing to reduce these vulnerabilities and impacts? said Eddie Baptista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and member of the CJWG. “It’s been long overdue.”

The descending hill in the Hollis flood zone on 183rd Street between 90th and 91st Avenues, April 29, 2022.

In the Hollis flood zone on 183rd Street between 90th and 91st Avenues, April 29, 2022.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Weeding out communities that are guaranteed to receive benefits is essential to ensure that communities that have been “historically left out” are taken into account as the state spends money to fight change climate, said Jessel.

It’s a complicated idea for Shivprasad bouldering in Hollis because it did receive investment: the neighborhood was one of the sites of a $20.5 million municipal project to replace and install sewers and water mains, finished last June.

But the project did little to mitigate the flooding, Shivprasad said. He and his neighbors still feel vulnerable; they can ill afford to continue paying the costs of flood repairs.

“I am worried about the next flood that will happen here,” said Shivprasad, who has advocated for government takeovers in the area. “I think a lot of people will suffer very serious damage and who knows, we might even lose more lives.”