Minnesota affordable housing developers and operators continue to build momentum toward increasing energy efficiency for affordable housing. CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy recently launched the Multi-Family Building Efficiency Program to provide support to owners of multi-family properties, meaning those with 5 or more units. The program is available for multi-family housing at all income levels, but has already been used by nonprofit affordable housing providers to reduce operational expenses that can be turned into increase affordability for renters.
The Multi-Family Building Efficiency Program is one of several recent positive developments to emerge with information and guidance from the Minnesota Multifamily Affordable Housing Energy Network (MMAHEN), which has brought together stakeholders from affordable housing development and energy conservation groups to explore and advance new solutions that will make housing healthier and more affordable. Energy and housing advocates originally joined together to convene MMAHEN in 2014. Among the numerous groups participating in MMAHEN’s pioneering policy work is the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), an NLIHC state partner.
The network is affiliated with the national Energy Efficiency for All project, a collaboration between the National Housing Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Energy Foundation, and Elevate Energy. MMAHEN’s accomplishments are the collective work of 35 individuals from across sectors, including utility companies, all bringing their unique experience to the table. The network focuses on expanding partnerships, methods, and resources through which developers and operators of multi-family affordable housing can reduce utility expenses and pass savings along to low income renters. MMAHEN materials state that utility costs are often 20% of a multi-family building’s total operating expenses, citing data that indicate $1.2 billion was spent on utility expenses in multi-family buildings across the state in 2013. The new Multi-Family Building Efficiency Program reduces these costs by providing free whole-building energy audits, direct installations of low cost improvements like LED lights and water heater blankets, consulting support for substantive structural improvements, and incentive payments after energy efficient improvements are implemented and verified.
Both Hope Community and Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership have already taken advantage of the new program and are excited about the reductions in operating expenses. In one case, energy efficiency improvements are reducing energy use by 15% and will pay for themselves through operating cost reductions within one year, and in another case use is down by 22% with improvement costs that will pay for themselves within two years. MMAHEN members are promoting the program within their networks and the two energy providers are committed to growing the program. This summer, Xcel and CenterPoint proposed increasing the program budget from $974,000 in 2016 to $3.28 million in 2019.
Energy efficiency is growing as a central feature in affordable housing design and production in Minnesota. In 2015, Aeon completed The Rose, a 90-unit mixed-income rental development in Minneapolis that is heralded as a prime example of sustainable, affordable development. The Rose features solar thermal panels to heat water, underground cisterns for rainwater retention and reuse, and an innovative variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system that eliminates the need for supplemental baseboard heating. Aeon also accessed funding to perform an expansive study of the health impacts of building materials. Aeon’s research allowed The Rose to reduce toxins and off-gases that are common in glues or stain repellants found in cabinets, countertops and flooring. The Rose is being studied as a prominent example for achieving a balance between charging affordable rents and using healthy materials. The project contains 21 apartments priced as affordable to households earning between 50 and 60% of area median income, with an additional seven apartments reserved for households experiencing homelessness.
“MHP is excited to see the expanded commitment toward energy efficiency in the development of affordable housing,” said Chip Halbach, Executive Director at MHP. “The work of MMAHEN is already having an impact, and we hope it inspires similar efforts.”
For more information about the Minnesota Multifamily Affordable Housing Energy Network and ongoing efforts in Minnesota to promote healthy housing, contact Sarah Berke, MHP’s director of strategy & partnerships, at firstname.lastname@example.org
MMAHEN’s factsheet about energy efficiency and affordable housing is at: http://bit.ly/2aONHU1
MHP’s blog post on the Multi-Family Building Efficiency Program is at: http://bit.ly/2bjrQUb
An Urban Land Institute case study that reviews The Rose is at: http://bit.ly/2aP6OzV
The Energy Efficient for All project is at: www.ee4a.org