Rethinking Affordable Housing

The secret is out—Utah is a beautiful place to call home! But as a lifelong Utahn I am perennially stunned by the swift increase in the cost of housing over the past decade.

All too often, friends and family members can’t afford to live in Salt Lake City due to rising housing costs. These are people who I grew up with, we share the same community and have considered it home our entire lives. And while the drought, and the effects of climate change loom large, the most pressing concern for many Utahns is the lack of affordable housing.

Fortunately, Utah leaders and builders can address both our climate and housing challenges by prioritizing efficient and electric housing. Efficient, electric homes are more affordable to live in while also limiting the pollution emitted into our airshed. It’s all in the way we build.

More Efficient Homes Have Lower Energy Burdens

In addition to monthly rent or mortgage payments, a key factor that determines housing affordability is the occupant’s energy burden—the amount of money they spend on utilities as a percentage of rent/mortgage. So for example, if your rent was $1,000 and your utilities were $100 you have an energy burden of 10 percent. By reducing the amount of energy that a home consumes, we can reduce an occupants energy burden.

High energy burdens disproportionately impact low-income families with children, Black, Latinx, and Native American households, and seniors. No household should have to choose between paying energy bills and buying food, medicine, or other essentials.

20% of the homes that will be in the ground in 2050 have not yet been built. This presents a tremendous opportunity to ensure new homes are as efficient and electric as possible to prevent latent retrofits.

Investing in Efficiency is an Investment in Affordability

This is a unique moment for Utah with both the Governor and the Federal Government making commitments to efficient and affordable housing.

The Utah Legislature has allocated $70 million for affordable housing. At the same time, the Federal Government announced a host of programs to support affordable and efficient housing. For example, for the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban (HUD) development announced its Climate Action Plan to “put our nation’s communities on the path to building more equitable, efficient, and sustainable housing infrastructure” by prioritizing investments in efficiency. Moreover, with the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, Utah will see additional sources of funding through sources like the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan Fund Capitalization Grant.

Thankfully, this funding comes at a time when we have been hard at work to update Utah’s residential building codes, and advocating for electric-ready code. With the renewed support from the Federal government, and our continued work with State and local officials, we have a unique opportunity to solve housing affordability and air quality at the same time.

AUTHOR

Thomas Kessinger

Beneficial Electrification Program Manager

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