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Affordable housing left out of energy efficiency programs, report finds

Apartments in the Renaissance Place neighborhood in North St. Louis, which includes subsidized and market-rate housing.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s no shortage of incentive programs to install energy-efficient appliances and fixtures in Missouri, but a new report shows that affordable, multi-family housing units are often left out of the mix.

According to the paper from the National Resources Defense Council, only 30 percent of households in those buildings within Ameren Missouri and Ameren Illinois' service areas are participating in energy efficiency programs. Energy costs can disproportionately impact low-income families, who spend nearly 14 percent of their annual income on utilities, according to the Missouri Department of Energy.

The paper estimates that the state of Missouri could reduce its demand for electricity by up to 15 percent, through a series of changes that include streamlining how landlords of affordable housing apply for incentive programs.

The recommendations include:   

  • Simplifying applications for incentive programs.
  • Reducing restrictions on how energy efficiency program money can be spent.  
  • Making tenant energy use data available to landlords
  • Coordinate the efficiency programs that do exist to avoid a duplication of efforts.

“When you talk to owners, you hear how complex their world is; how complex their financing structure is,” said Annika Brink of the National Housing Trust, at a presentation of the report in North St. Louis on Friday. “They don’t have the bandwidth to apply separately to gas, electric, common space and tenant unit programs.”  
A group of developers, local government agencies and utility company representatives held meetings last year to develop the proposals for increasing participation rates. Ameren Missouri and Ameren Illinois participated, but a note in the report says the company has not endorsed the recommendations.

Jim Travis of Laclede Gas said his company’s budget for efficiency programs is about $3 million a year. That includes a direct installation program with Ameren Missouri, which puts energy-efficient fixtures in low-income homes.

We’re kind of constrained as far as how much we can spend. Another barrier is just trying to market your programs and getting the attention of customers out there,” Travis said.

Travis said the low involvement is partly due to the fact that landlords don’t have much of an incentive to pay additional costs to install energy efficient appliances because tenants usually pay the utility bills.  

“That’s the challenge. You’ve got to try to convey to them the long range impact of energy efficiency, and how it can benefit their property and value, how it can keep a tenant,” Travis said.