Green rental housing program kicks off in Washtenaw County

With its high proportion of college students, rental housing makes up a significant chunk of the housing stock in Washtenaw County. In Ann Arbor alone, rentals comprise about 50% of the residential market, according to Jamie Kidwell, a sustainability associate for the city of Ann Arbor.

Accordingly, the city received a grant to improve the energy efficiency of rental units in Washtenaw County, under the umbrella of the county's $3 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Challenge grant. The three-year, $250,000 "greening rental housing" grant will be implemented through a partnership between Washtenaw County, the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Eastern Michigan University, and the University of Michigan, and will focus on two big categories of rentals: student and affordable housing, Kidwell says.

Landlords tend to pass utilities costs onto tenants, which gives them little incentive to make energy-cutting improvements to their properties.

"Just to put it in scale a little bit, I think U-M cranks out about 7,000 new renters each year...Our residential sector counts for about 20% of our community-wide greenhouse gas emissions. When you start to stack these numbers up, you see that making an impact on our rental housing is going to help our community a lot in terms of energy conservation, increasing our housing affordability," says Kidwell.

While there are already city and countywide energy-savings programs in effect, such as the PACE (Property-Assessed Clean Energy) program for commercial properties and the Better Buildings for Michigan program for homeowners, "I think the challenge will be those smaller-scale landlords, trying to figure out what's the right kind of program for them."

The grant funding will cover staffing for the program over the next three years, as well as education and outreach. Over the next couple of months, focus groups of tenants, landlords, and contractors will be convened, with policies and programs likely defined by fall of 2013, says Kidwell.

She adds: "Our community energy spend, excluding [U-M's buildings], I believe is about $140 million for natural gas and electricity, so even if you could save 10% of that energy, you've got about $14 million in theory that would go back into our local economy."

Source: Jamie Kidwell, sustainability associate, city of Ann Arbor
Writer: Tanya Muzumdar
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