Smart Stimulus Spending: HUD’s Green Retrofit Program

HUD rolled out its Green Retrofit Program, which awards grants to multifamily subsidized and public housing for “greening” their building stock. In some ways, this program is a perfect example of how Stimulus spending ought to work.

Solar panels in Maine. flickr user yeimaya

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Last Thursday, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the recipients of 100 competitive grants for energy-efficient retrofitting projects at HUD-subsidized and public multi-family housing developments. A total of about $100 million of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds were awarded to 100 different developments, totaling 8,112 homes.

The funds were awarded through HUD’s new Green Retrofit Program for Multifamily Housing, which was created with $250 million in Stimulus funding. These 100 awards — some grants, some loans — are just the first round of funding, the rest of which will be awarded on a rolling basis through September 30, the end of the fiscal year in Washington.

The program aims to reduce energy costs, and create those ever-elusive “green jobs”, by paying for installing more efficient heating and cooling systems, solar panels, using recycled materials, and other long term cost-saving green building measures. While they make no estimates with regard to job-creation, they do estimate that the program will amount to, on average $33,000 worth of energy per property per year, or about $3.3 million a year in energy savings. On the consumer end, they estimate it will save an average of $250 in energy bills per tenant annually.

One great example comes from Boulder, CO: the Canyon Pointe apartments. The 81-unit senior housing development will be retrofitted with solar panels on the roof, as well as various other energy-saving upgrades, like Energy Star appliances and better insulation, report Boulder County Business Report and the Colorado Daily. The solar panel installation will be done by Standard Renewable Energy, a company headquartered in Virginia that has offices in Boulder and Denver.

In a sense, this is a perfect example of what the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act was supposed to accomplish. It saves money both for property owners and tenants, the federal government, creates domestic green jobs, and will contribute to reducing carbon emissions down the road. It’s hard to imagine a program that better encapsulates the Obama Administration’s policy goals: public spending that attracts private investment in more sustainable technologies, and helps ensure long- and short-term prosperity.

It’s a shame that the Stimulus bill necessitated such quick action and spending on “shovel-ready” projects, which might not have such forward-thinking goals, or might sound frivolous and easy to mock by, say, John McCain and Tom Coburn. Programs like HUD’s Green Retrofit Program require a bit of foresight, planning, and a call for applications to actually be allocated where they’re most needed. Which isn’t to say that one year is a bad turnaround time; it’s just too bad that the political and economic realities of the Stimulus bill meant the bulk of the money had to be spent so quickly. And, let’s not forget that around $300 billion of the Stimulus was actually tax cuts, not spending. Tax relief accounts for almost 40% of the bill that Republicans like to demonize so much.

It’s a shame to see McCain and Coburn’s “100 Stimulus Projects that Give Taxpayers the Blues” get so much run in the mainstream media with little coverage of Stimulus projects that actually are doing precisely what they’re supposed to, and then some. But with approximately 21 of 24 hours on any cable news channel dedicated to the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, it makes sense; there’s precious little time for anything else, and I doubt anyone would care to listen anyway.

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