Bringing Energy Efficiency to the People Who Need It Most

Authors: Kristina Johnson

We were thrilled this week to hear that the U.S. Department of Housing Development is investing in a program to make affordable housing more energy efficient—something that will create good local jobs, slash air pollution, and shrink energy bills for low-income Americans, who are already strapped and struggling to get by.

The agency announced Thursday that it would awarda $3 million grantto the Network for Oregon Affordable Housing, which will use the money to implement the MPower Fund, an innovative new program designed to make multi-family buildings--like the affordable housing units and apartments where millions of Americans live--energy efficient.

Mention energy efficiency to someone and it usually takes about four seconds for their eyes to glaze over. But at Green for All, we get excited about energy efficiency because it can do so much to change people’s lives.

When it comes to creating jobs, energy efficiency is a workhorse. In order to make upgrades to buildings, you need skilled workers--and they need to be local. Efficiency upgrades help slash the pollution that causes health problems like asthma and heart disease and leads to billions each year inhealth care costs. And it shrinks people’s monthly energy bills, freeing up dollars that people can use to help their local economy rebound.

We’ve already seen remarkable results with programs that encourage people to make efficiency upgrades to their houses: In Portland, one of our partner programs, Clean Energy Works, made more than 900 single-family homes energy-efficient, cutting five million pounds of carbon pollution, putting 500 people to work, and generating $12 million for the local economy.

But that program was focused only on single-family homes.

At Green for All, the question that was keeping us up at night was how to make efficiency work for the people who stand to benefit from it most: low and moderate-income folks living in apartment buildings and affordable housing. It was hard to imagine that landlords and housing agencies, squeezed as they are by the recession, would be willing to pony up for the initial cost of efficiency upgrades--which can average $3,000-$5,000 per unit.

MPower solves that problem. It makes the math work for building owners and housing agencies. The MPower Fund pays the upfront cost of energy efficiency upgrades, and the tenants and building owner repay their utility over time as part of their monthly energy bill. Together, everyone reaps the benefits of lower energy bills. That’s why Green for All is working to expand MPower across the country, bringing energy efficiency—and jobs—to many more Americans.

HUD’s grant in Oregon is expected to save building owners and tenants more than $1.7 million over the next ten years. It will cut pollution from power plants by an estimated 1,300 metric tons a year. And it will create good jobs and generate dollars for the local economy.

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