As affordable housers, we're always looking for new resources to improve affordable housing and the quality of life for our residents. Last August, the Environmental Protection Agency provided us with an unlikely potential source, the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The Clean Power Plan provides a historic opportunity to bring energy efficiency investment to affordable rental housing. While the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a stay, many states are moving ahead.
The CPP requires each state to implement reductions in carbon emissions by an amount prescribed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). States can choose from a variety of strategies to meet the carbon emissions reduction requirements. In order to tap the new resources available under the CPP for multifamily affordable housing, states must simply demonstrate that increasing the energy efficiency of such housing is a cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions and help states meet their mandated goals.
The question is how? NHT and our partners recently released a guide to how the affordable housing community can engage state clean air agencies (those tasked with creating the CPP compliance plans) and other relevant stakeholders. As CPP planning moves forward in states across the country, it's worth taking the time to discuss how best to make the case for including affordable housing.
- Get involved. You can't be heard if you don't join the conversation. The EPA requires states to engage low-income communities and communities of color during the planning process. The affordable housing community is ideally suited to help meet this requirement. State housing finance agencies and affordable housing and resident advocates should encourage their networks to attend stakeholder meetings, meet with clean air agencies or utilities, and submit comments to help ensure the affordable housing community is heard in the planning process.
- Describe the opportunity. State clean air agencies may not immediately consider the energy and carbon savings potential in affordable housing. On the other hand, state housing finance agencies and other housing groups know how much affordable rental housing exists, the age and condition of the housing stock, and what opportunities there are for energy efficiency retrofits. Simply sharing this information helps clean air agencies understand the value of energy efficiency investment in affordable rental housing. This information is also particularly important as states consider participating in the CPP's Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP). The CEIP is an early action credit program that rewards states for energy efficiency investments in low-income communities. Demonstrating that there are projects ready to participate now can spur states to make these early investments.
- Explain the benefits. We as housers understand the many benefits of investing in energy efficiency in affordable rental housing. Making affordable rental housing more energy efficient is a 'four way win': it (1) reduces operating costs for owners, which frees up capital for maintenance and other repairs; (2) saves residents money through lower energy bills; (3) helps maintain the affordability of housing; and (4) creates healthier, more comfortable living environments. Outlining these benefits to clean air agencies and other relevant stakeholders, and explaining that these are in addition to meeting emissions reduction goals, illustrates how multiple priorities can be met through energy efficiency investments in affordable rental housing. Everyone benefits.
- Share your expertise. Affordable housing can be perceived as "hard to reach" with energy efficiency improvements because of complicated financing arrangements, long construction timelines, and lack of incentives. In order to tap the benefits of energy efficiency in the CPP, state clean air agencies must understand how to overcome these challenges. State housing finance agencies and affordable housing groups have valuable knowledge to help design and implement strategies to invest in energy efficiency in affordable rental housing.
States are moving forward, and working hard to develop strategies to meet their carbon emissions reduction goals. The time to make the case for energy efficiency investments in affordable rental housing is now. Let's help states create better outcomes!