Seattle Takes the High Road with Retrofit Program

Authors: Shamar Bibbins, Administrative Assistant, and Jeremy Hays, Director of Special Projects

Seattle just took a major step forward in creating a strong and fair green economy locally. Yesterday, the City Council adopted the "Community High Road Agreement for Residential Retrofit Projects," which will lead to the creation of thousands of high-quality, family-supporting jobs for qualified, historically underrepresented contractors and workers in the clean-energy economy. 

Seattle is in the process of launching its $140 million "Community Power Works," which aims to achieve major energy savings and CO2 reductions while creating thousands of living-wage green jobs. Over the next three years, energy-efficiency audits and retrofits on more than 2,000 single-family homes will create upwards of 300 jobs. Now, the Community High-Road Agreement will ensure that those jobs go to the people who most need work right now.

The Community High-Road Agreement sets standards for broad access to economic opportunities for both businesses and workers, and for access to the quality training programs that set trainees on long-term, sustainable, career paths. It also creates mechanisms for stakeholders to play a central role in the ongoing implementation, evaluation and adjustment of Community Power Works. This both ensures that the initiative will benefit from the diverse expertise in the community and strengthens accountability and democracy.

By including high-road standards in its innovative residential retrofit program, Seattle is showing the rest of the country how smart green investments can grow local businesses and provide on-ramps to opportunity for low-income and historically underserved communities. Seattle’s example demonstrates that it is possible to create jobs, improve homes, save energy, and reduce carbon emissions — all at the same time.

The process of crafting the High Road Agreement demonstrates the power of good faith community engagement. Diverse stakeholders from across the city — including labor unions, community-based organizations, contractors, training providers, public agencies, and financial institutions — collaborated over the course of three months to craft the agreement. While not always agreeing on everything, the stakeholders worked through tough issues to find common ground in the principles of environmental protection, economic development, and equitable opportunity.

“The Stakeholder process was by turns thrilling and contentious,” says Steve Marquardt of the Laborers Union. “We owe a lot to the community voices who urged us to aim high. I’m proud of the result.” Green For All is proud to have partnered with the Seattle Mayor’s office to design and lead the stakeholder process and to provide technical assistance to this cutting edge project.

The expertise and hard work of the stakeholders, the Community Benefits Law Center, and various city staff produced an exemplary High Road Agreement. It builds on best practices employed in Oregon, New York, and elsewhere, while innovating in key areas and tailoring standards to the particular circumstances in Seattle. In a short period of time, Seattle identified a way to create new, green jobs that provide pathways to prosperity for all its workers while maximizing environmental benefits and saving residents money on energy bills. This holistic framework serves as an example for what local governments can do to uplift their communities and generate economic development.

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