It’s long been a curse in the effort to plug leaky home windows or switch from energy-guzzling appliances to get energy efficiency: Those whose homes needed it the most - low-income families - got it the least.
Today, the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center issued a report to help fix the problem for up to three million families, zeroing in on one big landlord and rental assistance agency: The federal Housing and Urban Development agency. Report author and NCLC senior attorney Charlie Harak offers recommendations for HUD to ramp up efforts to help lower families’ electric bills and fight climate change in the process.
. While HUD’s annual energy bill exceeds $5 billion, its most recent report to Congress reported it only was able to save $33 million in energy costs, or 2/3 of one percent, according NCLC. While American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money has improved that amount, Harak says HUD should be able to easily reduce its energy bill by 20 percent, or $1 billion. Families – an estimated 1.3 million low-income people live in public housing authority-managed buildings while another two million receive rental assistance - would win as welll from lower electric bills.
Harek says HUD should follow the lead of Massachusetts which is working to target low-income neighborhoods and the Boston Housing Authority which is borrowing $63 million to upgrade 4,300 apartments to become more energy efficient. After the investment is paid off through utility savings, city officials say it will save taxpayers $7 million a year.
“HUD has barely touched the low-hanging fruit that could yield tremendous savings for taxpayers and for the poor families that the agency houses,” said Harak.
Here are a few of the ways NCLC says HUD can do better. For a copy of the report go
* Gain better access to the estimated $4.5 billion utility companies and others spend each year so a proportionate share of the funded reaches low-income people.
* Give better support to subsidized building owners so they can tap into the Weatherization Assistance Program that helps pay for insulation and other energy-efficiency efforts in low-income housing.
* Provide assistance to smaller housing authorities so they can also invest money in energy efficiency for long-term savings.
* Collecting better data on energy usage in HUD-subsidized housing; and
* Set and attain energy savings targets for HUD’s housing stock, as Congress has mandated.
The paper also recommends that HUD set up an Office of Energy Efficiency Implementation with an annual budget of $20 million to ensure the 3,300 housing authorities and many thousands more of subsidized owners receive the technical assistance they need to achieve the maximum energy efficiency savings that are feasible, while also providing tenant education that will help achieve even greater savings.
Here is HUD's response from spokesman Neill Coleman.
“We whole heartedly agree with the National Consumer Law Center’s call for a greater commitment to bring energy efficiency to this nation’s assisted housing stock. It’s precisely why Secretary Donovan has made this among HUD’s highest priorities. Far from ‘inaction,’ HUD is taking aggressive steps to reduce energy costs in many of the ways this report recommends.
“Through the Recovery Act, HUD is making an unprecedented $300 million investment to create approximately 1,500 new or replacement public housing units that will meet the highest green building standards. In addition, HUD is devoting another $300 million toward energy retrofits that will cut energy consumption up to 40 percent in 34,000 existing units. Another $3 billion in Recovery Act capital funds are being used by housing authorities across this country to invest in energy-efficient capital improvements. These housing authorities report that tens of thousands of public housing units will receive one or more energy improvements over the next two years – from new ENERGY STAR refrigerators, energy-efficient windows, replacement boilers and furnaces, compact fluorescent lighting (CFLs), and, in some case solar energy and geothermal installations.
“And there’s more. HUD new Strategic Plan establishes energy efficiency and green building in public and assisted housing as one of the it’s top priorities. This includes an ambitious goal of creating 159,000 energy-efficient and green public and assisted housing units over the next two years. It is no small thing that this is the first time HUD has ever set a clear goal for retrofitting and greening its housing stock.
“We’ve also established a new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities to support this effort. This office is establishing never before partnerships with other federal agencies to build on this movement toward energy efficiency. For example, HUD and the Department of Energy are making it possible that public housing residents can now take advantage of a $5 billion Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). This is huge.
“Finally, we’re creating a new Public and Indian Housing Energy Center to streamline and improve the use of Energy Performance Contracts in public housing. The number of Energy Performance contracts in public housing has grown 80 percent since 2000 and now impacts nearly 20 percent of the U.S. public housing stock. Again, a giant leap forward in this campaign.
“So, while we totally agree with the general themes of NCLC’s report, it sadly stops short in recognizing what’s actually happening on the ground.”
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