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Grants Will Support Energy Efficiency Upgrades To Affordable Housing In Mass. Gateway Cities

Monty Dickerson/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

This week, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a quasi-public agency that promotes the advancement of renewable energy in the commonwealth, announced that it will contribute $1 million to help affordable housing developments save energy costs by becoming more efficient.

MassCEC is using funds leverage federal dollars and support Boston-based WinnDevelopment’s Open Market Energy Services Company in making upgrades including weatherization, solar panel installation, replacement of hot water systems, and other changes. The goal is for select multi-family housing developments to become at least 20 percent more energy efficient.

In 2012, WinnDevelopment received $5.25 million from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Multifamily Housing Programs to promote efficiency upgrades through the Open Market ESCO program in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York City.

Alicia Barton, CEO and Executive Director of MassCEC, said that while the agency has made strides in improving energy efficiencies for homeowners and small businesses in recent years using other programs, the focus on affordable housing is a long-awaited step in the process to make the state more sustainable.

"There are still a few segments of the market that have been harder to penetrate and one of those would be these types of multi-family, affordable housing units because they just don't have the same type of access to capital to support the upfront costs that  certain types of industries or business have," said Barton.

Barton said the initiative will focus on the post-industrial, mid-sized Gateway Cities — including Holyoke, Pittsfield, Springfield and Worcester — because they’re more likely to have older, less energy efficient affordable housing stock.

"We want to make sure that residents of those areas are able to access the type of financing vehicles that would allow them to make these types of improvements to their properties," said Barton.

Matthew Mainville, Executive Director of the Holyoke Housing Authority, said older buildings with antiquated systems can be challenging and expensive to upgrade.

"The over-arching larger systems - your heating and hot water are somewhat problematic in that the systems are so antiquated that it's very cost prohibitive sometimes to be able to make the upgrades that would make really impactful change," said Mainville. 

And Elton Ogden, President of the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, said the pilot program that will allow owners and developers to reduce utility costs without taking on new debt could help improve or expand services for tenants.

"They certainly can benefit from reduced utility bills," said Ogden. "But also...the property pays the utility charges so reducing that charge allows the rent to be applied to other areas."

Ogden said that Berkshire Housing will consider ways to utilize the program. 

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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