State Grants Fueling Affordable Housing Energy Retrofits

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BOSTON (State House News Service— A mixed-income housing development originally heated by oil and later by gas is expected to slash its energy demand by at least 60 percent by electrifying its heating and hot water systems, with the project covered by a new state grant.

Developers for the Village at Brookline, whose units primarily house residents earning below 60 percent and 30 percent of the area median income, received a nearly $6 million grant as part of state government's push to cut greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and meet the state's ambitious clean energy goals.

Standing outside the development nestled next to the Brookline Village T stop Tuesday, Gov. Maura Healey said residents there deserve access to "the most up-to-date clean and energy efficient systems" that are available.

Seven organizations representing 10 affordable housing properties, including the one in Brookline, were awarded the first round of grants, totaling just over $27 million, through the Affordable Housing Deep Energy Retrofit Grant Program.

The projects translate into more than 700 housing units being decarbonized, according to Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Elizabeth Mahony.

"This program is what our approach is all about, our approach to climate change: Treating it as an opportunity, right, an opportunity to invest in homes and good jobs, an opportunity to create more livable communities," Healey said at a press conference. "It's an opportunity, as well, for the people who have borne the brunt of extreme weather and high energy costs to be the first in line to benefit from a clean energy revolution."

Projects that are receiving grant funds are located in Allston, Boston, Easthampton, Greenfield, Northampton, Salem, and Worcester.

Healey's office in February announced the $50 million grant program, partially funded by federal COVID-19 relief funds, calling it a step toward electrifying buildings and supporting residents most deeply affected by fossil fuels. The money can cover clean energy-minded retrofits and efficiency upgrades in buildings.

"The tenants who live here will see lower energy bills and the affordability of their homes preserved for decades to come," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper said. "As many of you know, building decarbonization is a key component of the Massachusetts clean energy and climate plan. To meet our climate goals, we have to address existing housing stock, and that's what we're doing here today."

About $23 million remains available to decarbonize low- and moderate-income buildings, with the next round of grant applications due in January, but Mahony said officials may look to secure more money depending on interest. She said 27 organizations applied for the first batch of grants.

For the Village at Brookline, the grant will also cover efforts such as making the buildings more airtight, upgrading windows and improving indoor air quality with energy recovery ventilation systems, said Christina McPike, director of energy sustainability at WinnCompanies, the owner of the development. She said the grant funding is "critical" for the 310-unit community.

"I really think that these 10 projects will become 20, 50 and 100 in the very near future," said McPike, adding the money is "inspiring" for building retrofits.

In Salem, nonprofit developer Preservation of Affordable Housing plans to cut energy use at Fairweather Apartments by 86 percent with its roughly $5 million grant, said Mahony. In Greenfield, a nonprofit called The Community Builders plans to reduce energy costs by 60 to 70 percent at a former department store being converted into mixed-income units and retail space, according to Healey's office.

Energy use should drop by 55 percent at Carol Avenue Apartments in Brighton, as the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation uses its $950,000 grant to rehab the heating system and pursue other efficiency upgrades, Mahony and Healey's office said.

"The projects receiving grants today will use the latest technologies to electrify their buildings through heat pumps and other appliances, improve energy efficiency, install solar, and make the improvements like roof repairs and electrical updates necessary to enable electrification," Mahony said.

She added nine types of insulation are being used on the projects as developers test out different "theories."

"So the next batch of projects will be even better and more efficient for our development community and for our residents, so it's really exciting work here," Mahony said. "When we fully weatherize buildings, we can right-size the heating and cooling systems, minimize GHG (greenhouse gas emissions), minimize energy bill burdens, and importantly, mitigate the impacts on our electric grid."

Congressman Jake Auchincloss called the grants an "excellent program" that will cut energy bills for families.

As he began his remarks, Auchincloss was interrupted by a protester who unfurled a banner that read, "Palestinian Lives Matter," and pressed the congressman to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas War. The man was swiftly escorted out of the press conference by a police officer. 

Auchincloss, a Jewish military veteran, has opposed a ceasefire as roughly 240 Israeli hostages remain in Gaza following Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel. Healey, asked by a reporter about the war, called it a "heartbreaking situation."

"My heart goes out to all of those afflicted, and you know, we pray for peace and resolution, continued support and humanitarian aid," Healey said after the press conference. "I've spoken previously about the despicable acts of Hamas. But you know, we just keep people in our prayers right now."

Written by Alison Kuznitz/SHNS

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