With a budget that is many millions of dollars in the red, the New York City Housing Authority—North America’s largest low-income landlord—doesn’t have a lot of cash to spare. So it’s not ideal that the electricity and heating bills for its more than 2,000 buildings are much higher than they should be. The agency, abbreviated NYCHA, estimates its spends more than 40% more on energy than a typical apartment building in the city. But tackling such a large and sprawling problem and encouraging energy conservation—especially when, in many NYCHA buildings, residents don’t pay their own electric bills—isn’t straightforward. “When you’ve been doing something one way for a decade, it’s really hard to step back and see the opportunities in a different light.”
So the agency approached Mayor de Blasio’s Office of Tech and Innovation with the problem, and out of that came two new open innovation challenges launched on Tuesday. Their aim is to ferret out ideas, from the private sector, for reducing electric bills without taking away residents’ control of their own apartments and, in a smaller number of buildings, reduce steam heating bills.