Over the past year, Fresh Energy has partnered with Minneapolis-based affordable housing developer Aeon to establish the Minnesota Affordable Housing Multifamily Energy Network. This group of more than 20 diverse organizations is driving an unprecedented coordination between the energy and housing sectors. The network’s purpose (as part of the national Energy Efficiency for All effort) is to improve and expand the use of a variety of resources to increase energy conservation for affordable multifamily buildings in Minnesota.
Multifamily housing, defined here as five or more units within one building, houses half of the nation’s very low-income renters. On average these buildings are older and less energy efficient, with renters spending up to 20 percent of their income on energy costs and living with the negative impacts of poorly insulated, poorly ventilated, and inefficient buildings. Inefficient buildings also create excess repair and maintenance costs for building owners, in addition to any utility costs they cover. Although efficiency measures are a viable solution to offset these excess costs, they are less likely to be found in multifamily rentals than in any other type of housing because of policy, structural, and financial barriers.
Using large meetings and small action groups, the network has built upon previous work to identify barriers in the energy and housing sectors and develop solutions for achieving increased multifamily energy efficiency. At a June 17 meeting culminating the first year of this work, the group identified 12 successes so far. Highlights include a new and improved multifamily energy efficiency program developed by Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy that incorporates many program best practices, and more concentrated coordination between utility efficiency programs and Minnesota Housing Finance Agency funding processes to better leverage these two efficiency funding sources. The joint Xcel/CenterPoint program was approved by regulators in May and will roll out later this year.
As we look ahead to continued efforts, significant challenges remain. These include barriers to whole-building utility data to create baseline energy use numbers and assess energy efficiency opportunities and performance, fair and institutionalized integration of renter and tenant voices in multifamily efficiency policies and decisions, and expanding the great work done by Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy to other parts of the state. As we tackle these and new issues related to multifamily energy efficiency, Fresh Energy will work with partners across the energy and housing sectors, as well as with new organizations and voices whose insights, resources, expertise, and relationships are critical to making affordable multifamily housing in Minnesota more energy efficient.
This effort is part of the Energy Efficiency for All initiative in partnership with National Housing Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Energy Foundation.