WASHINGTON, June 1, 2016 /PRNewswire-HISPANIC PR WIRE/ — Affordable, multi-family rental housing is becoming increasingly scarce nationwide, as property owners struggle to stay in business in the face of rising operating costs. That’s because rising operating costs, especially in aging buildings, often outpace what affordable housing owners are permitted to charge for rent.
Seattle is among the cities suffering from this affordable housing crisis, according to Marty Kooistra, executive director of the city’s Housing Development Consortium (HDC). He says at least 20,000 new income- or rent-restricted units will be needed in the next decade – triple HDC members’ best record to date.
In response to this pressing need, Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC) (www.emeraldcities.org) – a national nonprofit dedicated to building a sustainable and just clean-energy economy with economic opportunities for all – designed its RENEW Multi-family Program to help nonprofit building owners lower operating costs of these vital community assets.
Working with housing owners, state housing finance agencies and local utilities, ECC facilitates financing of energy- and water-saving upgrades that cut utility bills sufficiently to offset the cost of the efficiency measures. The comprehensive energy and water retrofits also help reduce carbon emissions and generate renewable energy.
“In addition to the obvious environmental benefits of energy and water conservation in buildings,” says ECC Vice President of Investments Kevin Warner, “RENEW helps owners upgrade the energy and water systems in multi-family buildings for less money than it presently costs to operate and maintain them – and that’s a good investment.”
To learn more about ECC’s RENEW Multi Family Program, please visit http://emeraldcities.org/renewretrofits/housing.
Robust start in Seattle
Following its December 2015 launch, RENEW Multi-family is off to a robust start in Seattle, where ECC is working with two nonprofit owners of affordable multi-unit buildings, Plymouth Housing Group and Bellwether Housing:
- The Washington State Housing Finance Commission (WSHFC) is lending funds for the efficiency measures;
- Seattle City Light (SCL), the municipal electricity utility, is facilitating on-bill repayment of the WSHFC financing;
- Retrofits are currently in process in 190 units in two buildings owned by Plymouth and are at the construction bidding stage in five buildings owned by Bellwether; and
- Already, water use – the largest utility expense – is down more than 50 percent compared with last year at the historic St. Charles building owned by Plymouth (see graph), and electricity use is down 10 percent.
“Seattle’s RENEW Multi-family Program is the culmination of years of collaborative work that realizes our mission of improving our environment with a lens on equity,” says Emerald Cities Seattle Director Steve Gelb. “RENEW’s portfolio approach and scalable model promise to reach deep into the current affordable building stock in the Puget Sound Region.”
Warner is confident that RENEW can be taken to scale nationally. “Every market, every city, every state has the three critical components: utilities, utility customers with unrealized retrofit projects and aligned financing partners,” he says. “Our job is to bring them together and facilitate transactions that generate measureable and reliable benefits for all stakeholders.”
Based on this success, Gelb is working to bring RENEW to nearly 20 more affordable multi-family buildings in Seattle in the next 12 months and expand to up to 40 buildings statewide by 2018. And ECC is working to launch the program this year in California’s Bay Area, eventually expanding it to other metropolitan markets. Additionally, ECC envisions applying the program to small commercial buildings, K-12 schools and higher education facilities.
Employing the same model of offsetting capital investments with operating cost savings, RENEW began in June 2014 by facilitating energy and water savings in municipal buildings in the City of Seven Hills in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. To learn more about that program, please visit http://emeraldcities.org/media/news/ec-cleveland-launches-renew-promising-greener-buildings-high-road-jobs-in-seven-hills-ohio.
Flexibility is Key
What really sets RENEW apart from similar programs – and the key to its success – Warner says, are flexibility, accountability and transparency. “While each RENEW project has its own structure, they all share common features and use a collaborative approach to meet the exact needs of committed, mission-aligned local stakeholders. We match the customer with the technical solutions and the financing that will make the project work.”
“Owner capacity and access to working capital are two barriers that prevent many buildings from being upgraded,” he continues. “So we provide the owner with technical and financial development services at very low upfront cost.” Those services include benchmarking a building’s energy use and costs, doing a walk-through with an engineer and consulting with the facilities manager.
Once those services were in place for Plymouth Housing, he adds, “We took the information to SCL and WSHFC, whose existing programs weren’t serving those buildings. We explained that RENEW could help SCL reach a population that really needs the savings from energy efficiency and help WSHFC use its dedicated financing to improve and preserve affordable housing.”
One Loan, One Bill Customized Approach
Seattle’s RENEW model is notable for aggregating energy and water improvements into one loan from WSHFC, to be paid back as a line item on the housing owner’s monthly electric bill. SCL agreed not only to on-bill repayment but also to rolling water and natural gas efficiency upgrades into its bill. SCL will simply collect and forward to WSHFC its share of the monthly loan payments.
RENEW’s customized approach also allows Plymouth to finance needed non-energy building upgrades, which WSHFC approved because they serve the commission’s interest in preserving affordable housing, whether through energy efficiency or structural improvements.
At last year’s RENEW Multi-family launch event, Plymouth Housing Group Deputy Director Betsy Hunter praised Gelb and the RENEW team for “working relentlessly to develop a program that will work for Plymouth and other nonprofit housing owners to save on operating costs and raise our awareness about energy use to make the city greener.”
She continued, “We should recoup our investments within just a few years, and we will enjoy the energy benefits much longer than that. That’s the right kind of investment for nonprofits, which pledge to operate our properties for many decades.”
Emerald Cities Collaborative (www.emeraldcities.org) is a national nonprofit network of organizations working together to advance a sustainable environment while creating economic opportunities for all. ECC is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and works in “Emerald Cities” nationwide with local and national partners that bring resources and expertise from the community, labor, business and government sectors.
Ronnie Kweller firstname.lastname@example.org; 202-688-0880; 202-276-9327