WASHINGTON – Investing in energy efficiency improvements to low-income housing can help ease both America’s housing affordability and climate crises but federal programs to facilitate those retrofits are severely underfunded, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior policy advocate Khalil Shahyd told Congress today.
In testimony before the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Shahyd said residential energy efficiency is the largest single measure that can reduce climate pollution in the United States. However, he said almost half of the affordable multifamily units--which house roughly 10 million Americans nationwide--were built at least 50 years ago and sorely need efficiency upgrades. (Affordable is generally defined as spending less than 30 percent of household income on housing.)
“Often, low-income and vulnerable households have very few housing options,” said Shahyd, a senior policy advocate with NRDC’s Healthy People/Thriving Communities Program working with the Energy Efficiency for All coalition. “They are left to rely on low-quality housing due to residential segregation, long-term neighborhood disinvestment, and deferred maintenance of the housing stock.”
He noted that because these homes tend to waste energy, utility bills hit low-income families harder than higher-income residents, with nearly one-third of U.S. households struggling to pay energy bills and many Americans forced to choose between buying food, medicine and other necessities – or paying an energy bill. Increasing the efficiency of their housing can free up hundreds of dollars per year per household, he said.
However, Shahyd said the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which is designed to help retrofit these homes, has an annual limit of 35,000 homes. It also has a maximum per unit expenditure of only $6,000 for upgrades such as improved windows, increased insulation, and more energy efficient appliances. Nonetheless, WAP upgrades save about 2 million metric tons of climate pollution annually, he said.
“There's not a state in the country where the waiting list for services is not extremely long, sometimes years. For example, at the current rate, it would take Ohio almost 150 years to weatherize all the currently eligible homes,” Shahyd said.
Shahyd told the select committee that Congress can help by increasing funding to upgrade affordable housing, which will mean less energy waste and a reduced need to generate electricity from fossil fuels that also produce the climate-changing pollution fueling climate emergencies such as flooding and wildfire that puts vulnerable housing stock at risk. Efficiency upgrades also help building owners continue to provide affordable housing, Shahyd said.
“With decisive leadership, Congress can address the dual crises of affordable housing and climate change, while helping to produce hundreds of thousands of new clean jobs and alleviate the negative health impacts of indoor and outdoor air pollution,” he said.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org
Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) connects climate, health, and equity by bringing energy efficiency to affordable housing. More than 200,000 renters in EEFA’s targeted 12 states have benefitted from energy efficiency because of the advocacy of EEFA partners at the state, regional, and city levels. To learn more, visit energyefficiencyforall.org