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Big Energy and Money Savings in Affordable Housing

PHOTO: Upgrades to affordable multi-family housing could save tenants, owners, managers and utilities money, and significantly reduce energy usage. Photo by Rudy Matthews Photography and Lloyd Wright for the National Housing Trust.
PHOTO: Upgrades to affordable multi-family housing could save tenants, owners, managers and utilities money, and significantly reduce energy usage. Photo by Rudy Matthews Photography and Lloyd Wright for the National Housing Trust.
June 4, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Basic upgrades of affordable housing will result in a huge energy efficiency payoff, according to two new studies from the National Housing Trust and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), both part of a broad coalition examining the issue.

Michael Bodaken, executive director of the National Housing Trust, says basic measures such as compact fluorescent bulbs, low-flow faucets, double-pane windows and better insulation would yield big results in existing affordable apartments, adding up to $21 billion in energy savings in eight states over the next 20 years. He says in many areas the return may be more than three times the cost.

"I don't know about you, but tripling my investment in something that actually helps make people more energy-efficient, healthier and more comfortable seems like a good thing to consider," says Bodaken.

The studies also found families in affordable-housing apartments could cut as much as one-fifth of their natural gas and electricity consumption.

According to Deron Lovaas with the NRDC, this is "big, low-hanging fruit." While West Virginia may have low rates for gas and electricity, Lovaas says the state doesn't see correspondingly low energy bills, in part because there's little attention paid to energy efficiency.

"That's something to remember," he says. "Consumers pay bills and rates are just one factor that determine the bills. How much energy they have to use is the other factor."

For the owners of affordable housing, Lovaas says upgrades mean keeping units on the market longer and keeping rents down. For utilities they mean fewer unpaid bills and lower collection costs. He says with a little better information, incentives and financing, utilities and property owners in other states are already seeing a payoff.

"If owners and managers have a pathway to energy-efficiency programs and a pathway to financing, they'll take advantage of that," he says. "We'll see savings accrue to tenants, owners and managers alike."

More details on the studies and on how to make energy efficiency improvements are at the Energy Efficiency for All website, at www.energyefficiencyforall.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV