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The Intersection of Affordable Housing and Home Energy Efficiency

by Chris Meyer, LEAP Executive Director

I’m now a couple of weeks into my role as the Executive Director at LEAP – diving into the energy efficiency world with gusto. The more I’ve been learning about energy efficiency, the more I’ve seen how it is linked to solving two problems many cities in Virginia are currently tackling: affordable housing and climate change. 

Energy-related expenses of older, leakier homes that many low- and fixed-income people occupy can really blow up a budget. Imagine a winter heating bill of $250 for February and a monthly income of $1000 … The housing is unaffordable, but if some energy-efficiency measures such as insulating and air sealing the attic were implemented, the house could become affordable again. Instead of having to build thousands of new affordable housing units, the existing housing units stay affordable.

For cities like Charlottesville, residential buildings are the biggest, or next biggest, sources of emissions, due to energy intensive heating and cooling during different times of the year. Most houses are not torn down to make way for brand-new builds with high-efficiency products, so retrofitting existing homes with energy-efficiency measures will be essential to meeting greenhouse gas (GHG) targets cities are committing to.  

The Terrels of Charlottesville – a retired couple – represent LEAP’s example of improving the affordable housing stock and reducing GHG emissions. Using City and Dominion Utility funding, LEAP was able to reduce their energy consumption and bills by properly insulating and air sealing their attic, replacing their HVAC system, and changing the light bulbs throughout their home to LEDs. Their house became more comfortable, their energy bill was significantly lowered, and the house’s energy-related GHG emissions were reduced.

As cities move forward in tackling the affordable housing issue and GHG emission reduction targets, they need to consider how to do both at the same time. The good news is, there are many existing programs and policy examples to draw from.

One specific program and its corresponding set of policies that LEAP wants to examine further is fuel switching. The process of replacing fossil fuels like natural gas for home heating with electricity is a strategy we would like to implement, but we need to think through how we can do so in a manner that supports affordable housing. Let me know if you would like to engage us on that topic to pilot something.

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