Obama's economic stimulus package is on the cusp of injecting some much-needed capital into greening Main Street.
The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law in February, offers a laundry list of apartment-related incentives to spur energy savings and green jobs. "This is an enormous amount of money for energy-efficiency incentives and, in many areas, more money than we have ever had appropriated before," says Eileen Lee, the National Multi Housing Council's vice president of environment.
The incentives include the appropriation of $3.2 billion for the DOE's Energy Efficiency Block Grant Program to provide grants to state, local, and tribal governments for the installation of energy-efficient building technologies. The program was originally created as part of the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007 but never received funding. The DOE recently announced its allocations: Looking at a cross-country sampling, California will receive a $49.6 million; New York, $29.8 million; and Missouri, $12.5 million. Click here for a complete list of allocations by state and locale.
Governments have not yet announced how the money will be used, and the DOE has yet to disclose the official program rules and regulations. The DOE also is providing an additional $3.1 billion for its State Energy Program, which offers grants to fund state government and energy technology research and development programs.
On the affordable side, the stimulus package includes two major programs: $2.3 billion, to be administered through a competitive bid process, for energy-efficient renovations and retrofits of Section 202, Section 811, and Section 8 units; and $5 billion for the weatherization assistance program, which helps developers perform energy building audits and weatherproof existing buildings.
A number of changes were made to the program, which was previously funded at only $400 million a year. The eligibility requirements were expanded to include participation of households up to 200 percent of the poverty level and assistance was raised to $6,500 per unit from $2,500. Additionally, on March 12, the DOE issued new guidance making it easier for apartment owners to access weatherization funds
The increased flexibility and funding of the weatherization assistance program is generating excitement within the multifamily community. "There are great [green] opportunities in the stimulus but the biggest one I see is the weatherization elements for rehab of existing buildings," says Jon Hall, a senior associate at GGLO, a Seattle-based architect firm which operates mainly in the Pacific Northwest. "We have been doing building performance evaluations where we go back and look at buildings two and three years after construction and evaluate them for the energy they are using," Hall says. "This funding provides a big opportunity to expand that program, and then suggest to our owners how they can improve their buildings?especially as we look at the [goal for all] buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030."
The multifamily industry is hopeful that the money to make all these much-needed efficiency upgrades will land on their desk sooner rather than later. "One of the recurring themes in the stimulus is to get money out as quickly and as responsibly as possible," says Peter Lawrence, senior policy director at Columbia, Md.-based Enterprise Communities. "I would expect the money to be available to developers fairly shortly because the administration is under great pressure to make sure the dollars are out there employing people as soon as they can."
In the meantime, all eyes are on the mammoth energy and climate bill, released at the end of March by the House Energy and Commerce committee. The House hopes to get the bill out of committee by Memorial Day. "The energy bill continues to advance the same things that are clearly important to the country and stimulating the economy," Lee says. "We want to be going in a sustainable direction with an increased reliance on renewables."
NMHC members have expressed concern about several items in the bill, including the use of a cap-and-trade program to curb emissions. "Members have spoken out that this is the wrong time to be doing cap-and-trade because it's an energy tax, and we would be setting in place a system that would penalize the use of high carbon fuels and that would translate into price increase across the economy."