August 12, 2022
Since their first meeting, the Affordable, Equitable Building Decarbonization Working Group has collectively recognized equitable decarbonization for renters to be a pivotal issue. Renters are roughly 45% of California’s population, but many have limited agency to make their homes more climate-friendly due to lease limitations, financial constraints, and their lack of authority in negotiations with landlords. At best, this means tenants will miss out on the health benefits of decarbonized homes and bear greater cost burdens due to increasing fossil fuel prices. At worst—without thoughtful implementation—programs that mandate home retrofits and upgrades can also lead to increased rent burden, more expensive utilities, and even displacement.
(Note: We addressed some of these barriers and opportunities in our “Renters Empowered in an Electrified Future” event—to learn more, check out the event recap.)
To better understand how the group could help address these issues, we reached out to regional stakeholders and partners already working at this intersection. We had two major questions in mind: (1) what strategic efforts are currently underway for designing and implementing equitable electrification programs for renters and (2) what tangible resources and tools are currently available for cities and program designers?
We spoke with tenant- and climate-focused community benefit organizations about the activity they have been seeing on the ground. We talked to codes and standards experts to learn about cities already working to design regulations with renter protections in mind. And we listened to electricity providers, city officials, and key jurisdictional leaders to get a sense of their current initiatives and some of the crucial elements needed to effectively roll-out equitable building electrification programs and policies.
What We Learned
- These frameworks, guidelines, and recommendations are mostly intended for cities, planners, and advocates:
- The Greenlining Institute’s Equitable Building Electrification – A Framework for Powering Resilient Communities report
- Institute for Market Transformation’s Building Performance Standard Module: Housing Affordability Policy Brief
- Building Electrification Institute’s Resources on Building Electrification
- Arup’s Los Angeles Affordable Housing Decarbonization Study Phase 2
- You can find these resources and others in our reference handout.
- Alameda’s Draft Equitable Building Electrification Plan
- Includes an equity statement in its principles: “Electrification policy should also support housing and anti-displacement policy.”
- San Jose’s Existing Building Electrification Framework
- Also includes a focus area that states: “There is a critical need to ensure building electrification efforts do not contribute further to displacement or increased costs for low- and moderate-income families.”
- San Francisco’s Climate Action Plan
- Calls upon the city to “develop and adopt tenant protection and anti-displacement policies for renters in buildings transitioning to efficient and all-electric systems” by 2023.
- San Francisco is also developing a new Climate Equity Hub that will support homeowners, renters, and workers through the transition to all-electric buildings.
- Los Angeles’ forthcoming local decarbonization ordinance
- Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE) is collaborating with the state Technology and Equipment for Clean Heating (TECH) initiative on a potential pilot for a tariff-on-bill financing program that would allow renters and property owners to experience the benefits of energy improvements—like improved indoor air quality, safety, and comfort—without higher energy bills. Rather than having them pay at the time of install, SVCE will help finance the upgrades upfront and recover a portion of the cost through bill neutrality: charging a monthly “tariff” on bills that is set up to be less than estimated bill savings. The tariff stays with the property and does not follow renters when they leave, extending the financing period long enough to keep monthly payments low and accessible for low- and moderate-income customers.
- Other utilities like PG&E are also starting to incorporate tariff-on-bill in their equity toolkit, although not all proposed tariff on-bill programs require bill neutrality or automatically apply the tariff charge to successor occupants.
- In the San Joaquin Valley, there is an ongoing pilot program focused on retrofitting existing multifamily deed-restricted homes, which you can check out here.
These pilots and test programs are helpful, but it was clear from conversations with stakeholders that more tangible tools and specific resources are needed. Some of the cities and program managers we spoke with shared that model codes, effective enforcement pathways, case studies and pilots across a range of local jurisdictions (different in size, location, demographics, etc.), and more direct guidelines to consider when shaping policies and programs are all things that would be helpful.
With these types of resources, more jurisdictions and program implementers would be empowered to design and accelerate equitable building electrification and decarbonization programs that better serve and protect renters. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution or framework; In order to create a program or policy that helps people and the environment thrive in the long term, it will require coordination across roles, patience, and thoughtful engagement with stakeholders and community members.
The Affordable, Equitable Building Decarbonization Working Group hopes to support this process. We would love to collaborate with others in this space and continue to learn more about the great work that is already happening. If you would like to get in touch, please reach out to Program Associate Jenny Low here. By working together across sectors and on these issues together, we believe we can go further and faster in creating the equitable electrified future we want to see.
A list of the contributors who made this blog possible by sharing their knowledge and time with us.
- Ryan Bodanyi, Senior Project Manager, CivicWell
- Josh Meyer, Program Director, Community Design, CivicWell
- Angie Hacker, Statewide Best Practices Coordinator, California Climate and Energy Collaborative (CCEC)
- Misti Bruceri for LocalEnergyCodes.com
- Ben Cooper, Program Manager, StopWaste
- Chris Hunter, Program Services Specialist, StopWaste
- Chelsea Kirk, Assistant Director of Policy and Research for Building, Equity, and Transit at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE)
- Diana Maneta, Building Decarbonization Coordinator, San Francisco Department of the Environment
- Nicole Grucky, Sustainability Specialist, Public Works & Utilities Department, City of Hayward
- Diane Bailey, Executive Director, Menlo Spark
- Bena Chang, Senior Government Affairs Manager, Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE)
- Nupur Hiremath, Manager of Community Programs, SVCE
- Jessamyn Allen, Program Manager, SVCE
- Hannah Gustafson, Senior Energy Services Specialist, SVCE
- Jessica Cornejo, Program Specialist – Policy & Government Initiatives, SVCE
- Beth Trenchard, Consultant, SVCE
- Colleen McCamy, Marketing Specialist, SVCE