Local Law 97 is one of the most ambitious—and divisive—climate measures enacted in any U.S. city. While some co-op boards see the mandate as an opportunity to make sustainable upgrades to their buildings, others say it will drain their financial reserves.
On the evening of Oct. 12, representatives from some of Queens’ largest housing cooperatives gathered at the Linden Towers Co-op in Flushing for an urgent meeting. Starting in January, each of their properties would be subject to Local Law 97, a historic city mandate limiting carbon emissions from large buildings.
Sitting at a table in her co-op’s main office, Linden Towers Co-op President Arlene Fleishman gazed solemnly around the room, catching the eye of everyone present.
“This is going to be a back breaker,” she said, warning that the renovations needed to comply with the law’s emissions targets would devastate the co-op financially. “We just can’t afford it.”
Local Law 97 is one of the most ambitious—and divisive—climate measures enacted in any U.S. city. Passed by the City Council in 2019, the law calls for most buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to meet new fossil fuel emissions standards next year, with limits getting tougher in 2030 and again in 2050. Failure to comply could result in fines of $268 for every emissions ton above the limit.
Environmental groups say the requirements are crucial to achieving the city’s climate goals, pointing to the impact of increasingly severe weather on residents and infrastructure. Pollution from buildings accounts for around 70 percent of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But the law has proven especially contentious among co-ops, which make up a sizable portion of the city’s housing stock and are overwhelmingly covered by the statute. While some co-op boards see the mandate as an opportunity to make sustainable upgrades to their buildings, others say it will drain their financial reserves and worry it could drive residents out of their homes.
During the meeting in Flushing, Fleishman argued that Local Law 97 poses an existential threat to middle-class living in New York. “Co-ops in communities like ours are … the only affordable housing left in the city,” she said. “But this is going to kill us.”
A financial bind
Close to 90 percent of the buildings covered by Local Law 97 already comply with its 2024 emissions requirements, the Department of Buildings (DOB) announced in August. But a much smaller share (37 percent) meet the stricter standards for 2030—a 40 percent drop in emissions compared with 2005 levels.
Buildings facing the toughest path to compliance include older co-ops, which tend to rely on oil or gas for their energy needs. Energy bills and other expenses—including property taxes and building repairs—are collectively covered by residents through monthly maintenance fees.
Over the past year, co-op representatives have voiced…