Kresge Is Into Boosting Energy Efficiency, and Here's One Housing Group It Loves

Not long ago, we wrote about the MacArthur Foundation's big impact bet on energy efficiency in multi-family housing. It struck us as a great bet focus because of how such investments can achieve a number of goals: Reducing carbon emissions, lowering housing costs, and creating "green collar" jobs. 

Energy efficiency is becoming a bigger deal these days, with New York City recently announcing a far-reaching effort to increase the efficiency of buildings in the city. Other cities are taking important steps, too. 

The Kresge Foundation is another funder with a big footprint in the energy efficiency space. And one organization that both Kresge and MacArthur have funded over the years to undertake this work is Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF).

Kresge has given the group over $1.3 million in grants since 2011, while MacArthur's support for the group goes back to at least 2003. Kresge's grants have come from both its "Human Services" and "Environment" programs, reflecting the cross-cutting nature of energy efficiency work. 

A notable feature of Kresge's strategy as a foundation is is that it likes to support networks and organizations that aim for a broad, system-wide impact in a given issue area. SAHF certainly fits this bill as an 11-member network of affordable housing providers nationwide, including some of the biggest players in the field like Volunteers of America and the National Church Residences.

Kresge's latest grant to SAHF will help build the organization up as an “idea lab” in developing and piloting "innovative financing mechanisms" for energy efficiency and clean energy programs in multi-family rental properties for low-income families, seniors, and disabled individuals.

Kresge seems to imagine SAHF as an innovative hub that's figuring out cool solutions, and then helping other housing outfits implement those solutions. 

Momentum around improving the energy efficiency of housing has been building for years, particularly after the U.S. government allocated a nice chunk of stimulus money in 2009 to make improvements to low-income families' homes.

While so-called "weatherization" programs create jobs, they also reduce carbon emissions and lower housing costs. For instance, an Environmental Protection Agency case study of Philadelphia, found that the new units that were STAR qualified for energy conservation saved more than $500 annually in utility costs. Philadelphia's plan to upgrade 1,500 units over the course of six years is expected to reap annual energy cost savings of $800,000.

How does SAHF help affordable housing units reduce consumption? The basic process involves free home energy audits for the affordable units using and array of Energy Star tools to calculate return on investment for energy upgrades. Then upgrades are carried out—often basic things like changing standard lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, sealing and insulating walls and roofing, putting in energy efficient windows, changing air filters, and tuning up HVAC equipment.

All of these tweaks add up to big savings, especially when multiplied over large housing units or whole developments.

Widening the lens further, study after study has found that the United States as a whole could greatly reduce its carbon emissions and save billions of dollars in energy costs by moving more aggressively on the efficiency front.