The intersection of housing, energy efficiency, and renwable energy presents both opportunities and challenges. Affordable housing provides opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable energy that can be both a tremendous benefit to tenants and can benefit the nation overall in the transition away from fossil fuels and into a 100% regenerative energy future. Particularly in urban areas, there is a huge opportunity to target multi-family affordable housing. In California, the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (created by Assembly Bill 693) sets the largest investment of solar on affordable housing in both “disadvantaged” and “low-income” communities, investing $1 billion over 10 years and funding “300 megawatts of new solar projects with the potential to serve over 150,000 low-income renters at over 2,000 affordable housing properties across the state.” 100% regenerative energy policies should include a policy element of renewable energy for affordable housing.
However, there are certain challenges with the intersection of housing and energy policies. In developing energy efficiency and building upgrades, housing security is threatened with land-loss and displacement. As the renewable energy infrastructure gets built out, advocates should connect 100% policies to anti-displacement policies and ensure the rights of housing and land to frontline communities. Major capital improvements are often justification for rent increases that result in gentrification and displacement, especially after energy efficiency and renewable installations.
In National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC)’s publication, The Unintended Impacts of Redevelopment and Revitalization Efforts in Five Environmental Justice Communities, they share:
[F]rom the perspective of gentrified and otherwise displaced residents and small businesses, it appears that the revitalization of their cities is being built on the back of the very citizens who suffered, in-place, through the times of abandonment and disinvestment. While these citizens are anxious to see their neighborhoods revitalized, they want to be able to continue living in their neighborhoods and participate in that revitalization.
The intersection of gentrification and displacement with energy upgrades highlights the need to build more housing, particularly in dense urban cities. Advocates should consider developing policies linking energy efficiency and renewable energy with housing and displacement, and programs where city or government surplus buildings can be turned into affordable housing should be explored.
Push for anti-displacement provisions. 100% regenerative policies should include the following anti-displacement policy components:
- Renter protections: Improvements in buildings do not act as a gateway for developers to displace people.
- Right to return: If energy efficiency, renewable energy, and improvements are made on a building, current tenants have the right to return.
- Community preference: “Seattle’s Office of Housing put together a ‘Community Preference Policy’—which generally means prioritizing members of a surrounding neighborhood for spots in affordable housing developments.
- The idea is communities actually benefit from affordable housing sprouting up in their neighborhoods.”
- First right to buy: If property is sold, current tenants have the first right to buy.
- Moratoriums on luxury apartments.
- Inclusionary zoning: Encourages or requires developers to set aside some units as affordable housing. Inclusionary zoning policies should be applied for energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to a building.
- Promote Community Land Trusts: The Colorado Community Land Trust “buy[s] and refurbish[es] homes or bring on developers to build homes on land they own. They then sell those homes to income-qualified buyers (usually making 80 percent or less of the area median income) at deep discounts.”
Include screening criteria. 100% regenerative policies should determine the screening criteria for who gets access to the benefits of affordable housing with energy efficiency and renewable energy. The policy should ensure that barriers in frontline communities or utility billing structures (mentioned above regarding master meter affordable housing) do not prevent them from accessing these benefits. For example, BIPOC and frontline individuals who have a criminal record are not prohibited from accessing these benefits, or those who do not have credit cards are able to have equitable access to the housing and energy programs.