Getting an Energy Efficiency Boost in Georgia

Building owners—with a leg up from enlightened power companies—can make a difference in their residents’ health and quality of life through energy efficiency upgrades, especially when it comes to multifamily affordable housing.

In places like Atlanta, which the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) says has the fourth largest energy burden in the nation, programs such as Georgia Power’s Energy Assessment and Solutions Program (EASP) help building owners and residents alike with cutting energy bills.

Take, for instance, Chisom Housing Group, a non-profit organization that helps expand affordable housing opportunities and improve residents’ homes and lives across the nation. Chisom exemplifies Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA)’s multi-pronged approach of preserving multifamily affordable housing programs by highlighting the importance of energy efficiency. By taking advantage of EASP, Chisom ensures that its communities in Georgia reap the benefits of energy efficiency and counter high energy burdens.

Watch Sarah Bagley of Chisom Housing explore the many benefits of EASP

Improving affordable housing, particularly its energy efficiency, not only helps residents save money on utility bills. It also increases opportunity and health for residents who may face asthma and heat or cold-related illnesses from living in drafty, inefficient homes, and by reducing energy use, there is less need to generate electricity from fossil fuels, which leads to cleaner air for all of us.  

As Chisom’s executive director, Sarah Bagley invests in affordable housing and the community, providing safe, healthy environments for residents to call home. Founded in 2003, Chisom invests in better infrastructure while being devoted to providing social services, helping to ensure that “whatever happens to [residents’] income” isn’t going to change the fact that they and their families have a safe and healthy home in which to live.

Chisom also provides services that residents may not be able to afford but that can help with long-term opportunity, including a summer meals program, general education development courses and art camps. By helping to eliminate family stressors and offer social programs, Chisom helps ensure residents are less likely to sacrifice needs such as healthy food and healthcare for themselves and their families in order to pay their energy bills.

Chisom hosted an art camp for residents with a local artist. They painted a mural on the side of one of Chisom’s buildings. Bagley explained that for Chisom’s residents the art camp is about "taking pride in [their] place and feeling like its home."
Wendell Patrick for Out of the Blocks

Aging affordable housing stock is an issue across the United States and one that Chisom is no stranger to in Georgia. Sarah explained that Chisom’s Oakland City apartment building in Georgia is the oldest property in Chisom’s portfolio, dating back to the 1940s. Research by the ACEEE shows that buildings constructed before 1980 tend to be less energy efficient because they predate the adoption of building energy code standards, meaning they are often in most need of energy efficiency upgrades. This explains the large portion of Chisom’s budget being allocated to physical property upgrades such as new roofs, HVAC systems and double-paned windows.

With help from Southface, a non-profit organization focused on sustainable development, Chisom applied for Georgia Power’s Energy Assessment and Solutions Program and ultimately received energy efficiency upgrades for two Georgia properties. Georgia Power installed LED (light-emitting diode) lightbulbs in all units in Chisom’s Oakland City West End Apartments in Atlanta. LEDs can use up to 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and save as much as $75 a year each on energy bills, according to the Department of Energy.

A 2016 study by the ACEEE and EEFA concluded that on average low-income households in Atlanta pay 10.2 percent of household income on utilities—double the amount that higher-income households pay. That means that making energy reductions such as those at Oakland City can be a substantial help.

From an owner’s perspective, the upgrades reduce the amount of money spent on maintenance and operation costs for the buildings, says Bagley, ultimately allowing for investments in other building improvements and social services.

By implementing energy efficiency measures within its Georgia properties, Chisom strives to make residents feel like “they have an investment in it as their home and a place of pride,” says Bagley. That feeling grows as they learn more about energy efficiency improvements, she says.

In 2019, Georgia Power will propose new energy efficiency programs, which EEFA hopes will remain robust for affordable housing communities like Chisom Housing.

EEFA is highlighting Chisom Housing Group as part of our storytelling series to elevate the importance of policy solutions and amplify the voices of those on the front lines facing large energy burdens in communities nationwide. We hope these narratives help illustrate in human terms the complex issue of affordable housing in America. 

About the Authors

Lamisa Chowdhury

Storytelling Initiative Co-lead and Program Assistant, EEFA, Healthy People & Thriving Communities program

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