Major grant aims to improve energy use in local affordable housing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded Cincinnati-based Green Umbrella and several partner agencies a $1.1 million grant to study how the electrification and weatherization of homes affects energy consumption and indoor air quality for residents living in affordable housing.

Plans call for the installation of energy-saving technologies – such as insulation, heat pumps and electric stoves – in roughly 50 affordable housing units in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The team is prioritizing apartments noted to be in the greatest need. Researchers will compare the results to data from other OTR Community Housing units.

Project goals are to improve energy reliability, affordability and comfort for Over-the-Rhine Community Housing residents while also helping researchers and policymakers come up with broader approaches for improving efficiency in other communities burdened by energy costs, according to Green Umbrella, the lead investigator on the project.

This grant program is a part of the EPA’s focus on ensuring equitable transitions in the energy economy and investing in communities that have been historically marginalized or suffered environmental injustices.

“We’re excited to work with this talented team of researchers and policymakers to make a real difference for people living in these (units), and even more excited for what this means for the future of critical energy transformations in our city and region,” said Ryan Mooney-Bullock, executive director of Green Umbrella.

This project was developed in partnership with OTR Community Housing, the city’s Office of Environment and Sustainability, Indiana University, Carnegie Mellon University and the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

University partners will track and analyze data related to energy affordability and air quality benefits to influence future policy recommendations.

One of the researchers working on the project is David Konisky, whose work at Indiana University focuses on environmental and energy policy. He noted that one of the goals of this project is to help project partners understand the practical benefits of making energy efficiency improvements and identify potential challenges that need to be addressed.

Data from the city of Cincinnati shows the energy costs are overburdening approximately one in four local households. Konisky noted that there’s a particularly large gap in energy efficiency work in rental units, especially affordable units.

One of the biggest challenges to providing truly affordable housing is that the issue is bigger than just keeping rent prices today, said Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of OTR Community Housing. Access to truly affordable housing includes providing people with low energy costs and healthy and safe homes to live in, she added.

Over-the-Rhine in winter
(Casey Weldon)

“This project will provide us the opportunity to make meaningful energy upgrades, as well as understand the value of those improvements to our community members,” Burke Rivers continued. “We are grateful for this opportunity and for community members who will engage in and benefit from the process.”

In addition to implementing technology improvements, the project will be co-led by community members and involve residents in data collection and education opportunities. Residents will be paid to take part in pre- and post-study analysis over the three-year grant period. They’ll provide direct feedback to researchers and city of Cincinnati staff.

Throughout the study, Green Umbrella plans engage other Greater Cincinnati communities to better understand barriers to going electric and look for areas of possible improvement. The organization will use that information to develop actionable next steps and hopefully expand these efforts, Mooney-Bullock said.

Project partners were able to scale the impact of the project thanks to an infusion in seed funding from a number of partners, said Oliver Kroner, director of the city’s Office of Environment and Sustainability. He mentioned Duke Energy Ohio, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr. Foundation and The Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

“This work will deliver real benefits to the people of Cincinnati and will shape strategy and policy development in coming years,” Kroner said.


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