New York City COVID-19 Heat Wave Plan

In May of 2020, New York City (NYC)’s Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a COVID-19 Heat Wave Plan to keep vulnerable New Yorkers cool at home, create safer summer cooling options, and anticipate and reduce power outages. The plan addresses the higher risk for indoor summer heat exposure that vulnerable residents face while simultaneously trying to maintain social distancing in the context of a global pandemic. The $55 million plan directs the City to install 74,000 air conditioning units in the homes of residents who are 60 years of age or older, retrofit new spaces for emergency cooling centers, and better prepare for power outages. The plan lessens risk for vulnerable NYC residents of heat-related illnesses and death, as well as COVID exposure or infection. NYC recognizes the intrinsic connection with climate change, social equity, and COVID-19 recovery, and is committed to protecting the most vulnerable from climate impacts like extreme heat.   

Seniors are among those at the highest risk of heat-related illnesses. There are more than 62,000 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents who are 65 years of age and older, the fastest growing age group in NYCHA’s population. As COVID-19 forces more residents to spend longer periods of time inside, these residents are even more vulnerable to heat-related stresses brought on by a lack of air conditioning. 

To achieve the first goal, the City will provide over 74,000 air conditioning (AC) units to low-income seniors. Those that are eligible for the program are New Yorkers who are 60 years old or older, make below 60 percent of the state median income, and do not have AC at home. Eligible residents will be identified by NYCHA, Department for the Aging, Human Resources Administration, and Housing Preservation and Development case managers. Approximately 22,000 of these air conditioners will go to NYCHA residents. The City is providing $35 million in funding for the project, which includes $10 million from NYCHA, and an additional $20 million is being provided by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). By June of 2020, the City had already reached out to over 180,000 low-income seniors and had installed over 4,500 AC units, including 1,900 in NYCHA buildings. By the end of the summer, the City hopes to reach its goal of installing 74,000 AC units. 

Low-income residents might own AC units but cannot pay for the utility cost of running them, especially as many have been hit by the economic cost of COVID-19. The New York State Public Service Commission will provide $70 million in funding to help pay the utility bills of approximately 440,000 NYC families so that they will not have to choose between paying for air conditioning and other necessities. The City is also advocating for the state to allocate a portion of the $900 million Home Energy Assistance Program funding it received through the CARES Act for summer utility bill relief, and to compensate for some of the increased energy usage with AC installations

To address the second goal of creating safer cooling options, the City is identifying existing facilities that can be used as cooling centers in high-risk communities, while incorporating measures for social distancing and providing personal protective equipment. Additional alternative sites, such as sports venues, are being considered to be retrofitted as cooling centers. The City will also employ misting equipment in creating cool “oases” in areas of greatest need during extreme heat events. 

In addition, in anticipation of power outages in the summer the City is pre-staging generators across the city. During short outages buses employing social distancing will be deployed for emergency cooling, and during longer outages hotels will be used as emergency shelter. 

The plan builds off of two 2019 previous pilot programs that occurred in Manhattan and in the Bronx. The first pilot location was Meltzer Towers, a NYCHA senior building in Manhattan, where residents received new air conditioner units linked to a networked central control system. AtThe second location was Fort Independence Houses in the Bronx, where NYCHA installed heat pumps to regulate temperature. Both initiatives worked to protect senior residents from extreme summer heat in the face of rising temperatures. 


Publication Date: May 15, 2020

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