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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Big Money to Green Low Income Housing

Air Date: Week of

The private, nonprofit development group Enterprise pledged four billion dollars to make low-income housing more energy efficient and healthy to live in. Enterprise’s Dana Bourland talks with host Jeff Young about how those at the lower end of the economic spectrum are hit hardest by home energy prices.


CURWOOD: Now, the PACE program to fund renewable power and other green improvements is one approach – and there are others focusing mostly on low-income households.

YOUNG: The private non-profit development group Enterprise plans to come up with four billion dollars in the next five years to retrofit or develop 75,000 green homes, partly by tapping in to the growing market in carbon offsets. Dana Bourland, the vice-president for Enterprise, Green Communities, says they try to make low-income housing more energy efficient because the people who live there get hit the hardest by utility costs.

BOURLAND: It’s astounding really when you look at it. There was a study of low-income households to look at what they were paying for their utility costs, and they’re paying at least four times more than a moderate income household is, just for energy, which means tradeoffs. So, they’re much more likely to skip their medical visits or even skip eating for a day, just to keep the lights on or keep the air conditioning going.

YOUNG: Now, not all the projects that you’re talking about are just about improving energy efficiency – this is a broader definition of “green”. Tell me about this project you have in Seattle?

BOURLAND: So, there’s one terrific development called Hyde Point, it’s a large redevelopment of public housing on the west side of Seattle. There were 60 homes built to a specific standard to really make those homes easier to breathe in. Mostly because they don’t have carpet, which really does attract sort of dirt and pollutants in it, and also installed filter systems for the whole house, so you’re getting the right amount of fresh air into the home and taking the stale air out. So, the children that moved in had asthma that was part of the requirement putting the families in those specific homes. Within a one year timeframe, those children are experiencing 60 percent increase in the number of days they don’t have symptoms related to asthma.

YOUNG: Now, how do you pay for all this stuff? Tell me about this what sounds to me like a very clever idea to use this whole notion of carbon offsets to help offset these costs.

BOURLAND: Enterprise realized that if you met the green community’s criteria, you’d be reducing carbon emissions by about two tons. So, we decided to figure out how to operate within the voluntary carbon market to buy offsets from developers of green communities’ projects that would allow them to pay for those energy efficiency measures that would result in the lower carbon emissions.

YOUNG: Now, what has to happen to make that happen? This is part of some legislation?

BOURLAND: Right now is just operating, so you, Jeff –

YOUNG: The voluntary market is happening?

BOURLAND: Exactly, it is part of the climate bill to think about a cap and trade system. That cap and trade system could generate as much as 50 to even 300 billion dollars.

YOUNG: So, if this goes large scale then some industry looking to offset its carbon pollution could basically buy a stake in one of your green houses?

BOURLAND: Exactly. That’s our goal, is to really link affordable housing into the green economy.

YOUNG: You know, we are of course, in this economic crisis, which had its start in the housing crisis, the foreclosure crisis. How’s that affecting the effort to green housing?

BOURLAND: It’s obviously not a good situation, but we are presented now with a tremendous opportunity to go into those homes and rehab them and do things, you know, on a moderate level but will have a tremendous impact for then new owner. And what we’re seeing is there is a slight correlation emerging between homes where the owners could not afford their utility bills coupled with their rising mortgage cost, just became a disaster. We forget, I think, sometimes that housing costs it’s not just your upfront rent payment or your mortgage payment, it is the operations and maintenance and that we’ve seen take a huge spike in terms of the cost for energy, for electricity and for water.

YOUNG: You know, part of I find interesting as you lay this stuff out is it’s not just green in an environmental sense, this is green in a dollars and cents sense. This is bottom line kind of thinking.

BOURLAND: Jeff, exactly. This is just good business sense. The other part of that though is what we’re seeing in terms of the engagement in this movement that you and I both live somewhere and hopefully most of us do have a home that we have control over or an apartment where we can actually take small steps, or larger steps, and play a large role in the global situation that we’re facing in terms of climate change.

YOUNG: I don’t know why this just occurred to me, but the root of the word ecology, eco, means house.

BOURLAND: It does, yes.

YOUNG: Home, sweet, home.

BOURLAND: Home, sweet, home.

YOUNG: Dana Bourland is vice president for Enterprise Green Communities. Thanks for visiting.

BOURLAND: Thank you.



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