Taking Advantage of Federal Funds to Preserve and Construct Affordable Housing – Lessons Learned from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

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If you follow ICAST’s blog, you know we have been hard at work leveraging opportunities created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to scale green solutions in underserved communities. For example, as previously reported, the BIL provided $3.2B for the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) on top of the $1.6B standard WAP allocation (ongoing over the next five years). Since the BIL’s signing, ICAST has been engaging with states to help them understand how they can utilize their BIL WAP allocation to benefit the historically neglected multifamily sector.

We are making progress. Tennessee has elected to use its BIL WAP funds for a statewide, multifamily-focused weatherization program and contracted ICAST to launch and manage it. To the tune of approx. $60M, this Program will help vulnerable households in multifamily affordable housing (MFAH) and shelters access energy efficiency, solar, and health and safety upgrades.

We’re thrilled about this result and eager to keep going. As we do so, we want to highlight some lessons learned over the years that helped prepare us to meet this moment. Though only a fraction of what IRA and BIL provide, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 was the only comparable crisis response. Then as now, we tried to answer a couple of all-important questions: First, how do we absorb and optimize a shockwave of funding? And how do we ensure that marginalized communities are at the table?

Then as now, our answer has several key parts:

  • Benefits for underserved communities are best achieved via stakeholder collaboration. This is especially true when projects leverage existing partnerships and expertise within local communities.
  • Service providers and program administrators (e.g., for utility, weatherization, and healthy homes programs) need to coordinate to leverage funds beyond their standard pools of money. If they do not, programs could be redundant, or worse—in direct competition with each other. These stakeholders need to ensure that their program requirements align in such a way that funding is not overly burdensome to leverage (e.g., are there multiple sets of income requirements).
  • These boom times should be greeted as an opportunity to document best practices, reduce knowledge gaps, and overcome hassles and barriers in program implementation.

In the last few years, we have witnessed and participated in some exciting progress made along these lines. Programs that have been gaining traction include those that combine energy solutions with health and safety scopes, as well as remediation of barriers to energy upgrades. We also see utilities and government programs working on merging traditional energy efficiency work with other distributed energy resources solutions such as solar, energy storage, energy management, and electric vehicle infrastructure.

Historically, all of these solutions have fallen into different silos. Breaking that pattern is hard work, but building strong referral networks between programs, understanding program designs, and collaborating with those currently developing the rules (e.g., agencies responsible for administering IRA and BIL funds) are key to success. ICAST will continue to push for these synergies in order to deliver economic, environmental, and social benefits for underserved households in MFAH.

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