Green Housing for Everybody, Not Just the Rich

Commonwealth/Worcester Green Low-Income Housing Coalition aims to introduce changes and best practices into the fabric of housing and other opportunities for homeless people.

The group believes that shelters and low-income housing should be some of the first places - not the last - to receive the benefits of efficiency and energy programs, and that those with resources shouldn’t be the only ones who can call themselves “environmentally friendly.”

Commonwealth/Worcester Green Low-Income Housing formed as a result of some experiences they had in the homeless community in Worcester; the second-largest in the country according to co-founder Dave McMahon. “Worcester is New England’s second-largest community, and during the last economic downturn [in 2008], we saw a lot of different things. We saw curtailed foundation giving, dried up government funds, and a sort of retreat from private giving. It was really devastating to the social safety net that serves low-income people in our community.”

At first, lowering utility costs was just a tool they employed to free up scarce funds for other social services. Through tracking their numbers, they were able to show agencies that investments in solar energy, insulation and passive means of reducing energy consumption paid off. Now, McMahon and crew are working to advocate for these measures to be included in agencies and in policy across the state. 

With the exception of those with the means to invest in solar energy or energy efficiency updates personally, most of us will rely on advocacy and policy change to make the energy transition we need a collective reality. So Dave’s team in Worcester are working to ensure that people who have lived in homeless shelters and low-income housing projects are a part of that conversation.

“There is still emphasis on building these giant solar farms that aren’t really accessed by low-income renters or people who can see the benefits of solar. It’s still tilted towards people of means.  But one of the things our group does well is to get people with different experiences to the table: they advocate, chair commissions, and are a part of the committees that look at solar in our state,” shared Dave. 

 "But one of the things our group does well is to get people with different experiences to the table: they advocate, chair commissions, and are a part of the committees that look at solar in our state,” shared Dave.

“This has included, for example, our leader Mike hosting ‘postcard parties,’ where people new to recovery with addiction issues, right off the street, homeless, worked with Mike to write 500 personalized postcards to energy stakeholders to explain in their own words how important housing, programs, and opportunities are to them, and how solar energy or efficient heat can create new opportunities for programming and housing in low-income nonprofits.”

By making experts listen - and challenging the notion that those with purchasing power are leading the way - Commonwealth/Worcester Green Low-Income Housing signals a shift in the environmental movement, in which all of us get a seat at the energy revolution table. 

Read more about our Equity in Participation practices here

Guiding Practices:

Primary issue area:

Climate Change & Energy

State:

  • Massachusetts