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A Double Bottom Line Win in Massachusetts

Some low-income residents can spend up to 40% of their incomes on energy and that building emissions are unnecessarily high.

Ten percent of housing in Massachusetts is affordable housing. Many of these units are highly inefficient. This means some low-income residents can spend up to 40% of their incomes on energy and that building emissions are unnecessarily high. Property managers for these units typically operate with razor thin margins. This makes it difficult to access the human and financial resources to make energy upgrades – even though the potential economic and environmental benefits are substantial.

Facing this challenge, Barr provided support in early 2009 for a group of low income and affordable housing advocates to work with utility companies (which run efficiency programs in Massachusetts). Together, they designed a new program focused on energy upgrades in affordable housing. The initial budget was $22 Million.

The next step was to help the affordable housing community access these new resources – which required a level of knowledge and technical expertise few in the sector had. Barr gave a grant to Boston LISC and New Ecology to test a novel approach to close this gap. Calling it the, “Green Retrofit Initiative,” the team offered their support as a one-stop-shop to:

  1. Benchmark utility consumption in all units to identify the biggest opportunities to improve efficiency
  2. Connect with funding from multiple sources, including utility programs and local and federal grants
  3. Link participants to a learning network to trade information and strategies

The results?

The group partnered with 11 different community development corporations with oversight of over 5,000 units of affordable housing. After benchmarking these, more than 2,000 received guidance on how to finance and implement the energy upgrades. So far, these units are showing a 19% reduction in energy use. This means fewer carbon emissions to be sure. It also means lower costs for tenants who pay for utilities directly; lower costs for property owners who foot the utility bill themselves (reducing pressure to increase rents); and more comfortable homes and long-term housing stability for tenants.

In 2012, based on these results, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided a $1 Million grant to expand the pilot to all owners of affordable housing statewide.

The Green Retrofit team also produced a short video (below) about how they did it and featuring one of the residents, who talks about the difference the work is making for her.

LISC Mass Green Retrofit Initiative: Saving Energy, Improving Lives

The Green Retrofit Initiative (GRI) is a program designed to help affordable housing owners navigate our state’s utility programs to achieve energy efficiency savings. In partnership with our building science expert, New Ecology, Inc., LISC Boston has worked with over 50 multifamily affordable housing owners statewide to benchmark a total of 17,000 units, retrofit more than 5,000 units, and leverage over $17 million. The Green Retrofit Initiative’s approach has demonstrated that energy and water retrofits can consistently result in 20 percent energy savings.

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Mariella Puerto

Mariella Puerto

Co-Director of Climate