DMI Blog

John Petro

Creating Jobs, Investment, and Economic Opportunity in the Outer Boroughs

Green Jobs. Everyone wants them. Mayors love talking about them. But where are they? The concept of green jobs holds a lot of potential, but we've yet to realize this potential.

In Los Angeles, a plan by the mayor to install 400 megawatts of solar power by 2014--leading to hundreds of new green jobs--was defeated by referendum earlier this year. And the city's plans to develop a brand new 20-acre "CleanTech Manufacturing Center" have been put on hold after the center's first tenant, Italian rail car maker AnsaldoBreda, pulled out of the project shortly before the deal was slated to close.

Last month, New York City announced a 30-point initiative to grow the city's green economy. In a city where 68 percent of commuters get to their jobs by public transit, walking, or biking, you could argue that our economy is pretty green already, especially compared to Houston or Atlanta. But of course, what we're talking about is creating green jobs. The city's plan has the ambitious goal of doubling the number of green jobs in city in 10 years, from approximately
13,800 to 27,600.

There are many good ideas in this plan and it should be carried out. But what New Yorkers need, especially those in Outer Borough neighborhoods that are suffering from the housing crash, is a way to channel investment into their neighborhoods to make green improvements to their homes and businesses. By borrowing an idea from California, New York City can get credit flowing back into its neighborhoods again. The best part: by using this credit to finance energy efficiency improvements, the energy savings will actually be greater than the cost of the improvements. A property owner can make investments in his or her property at effectively no charge.

The idea is from Berkeley, California. Essentially, property owners that wish to make energy efficiency improvements or to install solar power through the city's BerkelyFIRST program basically take a loan from the city and pay it back through a special charge on their property tax bills over 20 years. The city gets cheap credit by issuing bonds. The bonds are backed by the special property tax payments.

The property owner makes the improvements, like new windows or an energy efficient boiler, and then enjoys the energy savings.

By replicating this program, the city can open up neighborhoods to new investment while creating green jobs at the same time. It is important that these new jobs be accessible to neighborhood residents, which is why the city's green jobs plan, which includes job training, is also necessary.

There will be challenges in buildings that are renter-occupied, since property owners will have less incentive to make efficiency improvements if they will not realize all of the energy savings. Perhaps new regulation like stricter building codes will also have to play a role. But property owners would be smart to take advantage of this type of program, to make improvements in their property at very little cost to themselves.

By borrowing what has worked elsewhere, New York City can be a true national leader in green job creation.

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Posted at 10:44 AM, Nov 10, 2009 in Energy & Environment | Urban Affairs
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