Green Cities

New funding opportunity for energy efficiency in low income communities!

Low income housing and community centers, like schools, are falling apart in the US. The majority of schools in the country are over 40 years old, and low-income schools systems rarely get any attention. These facilities desperately need energy efficient construction and retrofits so that they can be healthier and more affordable. Healthier Buildings Old facilities lack proper ventilation, insulation, and lighting.  “Sick building syndrome” plagues tenants in unrepaired affordable housing and students in decrepit schools. Efficient facilities with better ventilation systems can help alleviate mold and illnesses associated with indoor air quality, like asthma. Energy efficient bulbs and more natural lighting also have positive health impacts: they improve mental health and sleep patterns. A study done by the Heschong Mahone Group found that students with access to better, more natural light in their classrooms had higher test scores. More Affordable Low income families spend around 19% of their annual income on energy bills—pushing out money for other necessities like groceries. Buildings waste a substantial amount of their energy, so retrofits are vital to reducing families’ expenses. A school can save around $100,000 per year, the equivalent of 200 new computers, when they make their facilities more energy efficient.  Schools that commit to “going green,” can redirect huge amounts of money towards underfunded programs and help their students excel. An efficient building can save thousands to millions of dollars over its lifetime, and the savings start immediately. For instance, switching out lights for more efficient models will lower electricity bills the moment they are installed. Low income communities should not have to pay higher bills when there is such a cost-effective alternative. Financing Energy Efficiency Low income communities should be able to access the high and immediate payback—with economic, social, and health benefits—of energy efficient projects. But how can they pay for the upfront costs it takes to start these kinds of projects? A surprisingly new and very lucrative answer could be banks. Every year, banks have to put billions of dollars into low income communities because of something called the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The CRA was passed in 1977 and works to inhibit discriminatory credit practices, or redlining, against low income groups and minorities by banks across the US. They get credit by investing in the low income communities where they do business. From 1996 to 2008, banks invested over $1 trillion in community development and small businesses loans in low income areas. In other words, this could be big. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the banks’ regulator, has proposed a clarification that will allow banks to get CRA credit for investing in energy efficiency in low income communities. This clarification incentivizes banks to give out low to no interest loans, or even grants, for green affordable housing and schools construction projects. Increasing investments in energy efficiency in low income communities will help build healthier and more affordable buildings where community members can live, learn, and work. The OCC is taking comments until November 10th and they want to hear from you! Tell the OCC that you believe banks deserve CRA credit!