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Brighter Ideas in Affordable Housing

Sustainability and affordable housing – they aren’t separate issues. Clean air and water help to break cycles of poverty. Our commitment to the people that call Mercy Housing home is for the long term. That means we’re always searching for ways to preserve communities’ health and vibrancy for generations to come.

This long-term approach is what led our Green Hope team to partner with Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC). Together, they’re making futures brighter for families earning lower incomes.

Light-Bulb Moment

Keep Your Home Cool and Green This Summer

Resourcefulness is the reoccurring theme for sustainable affordable housing. Affordable housing is a complex industry and to create homes and opportunity for people in need, you must discover opportunity where others see scarcity.

Utilities are a bill, not something that everyone sees as a source of opportunity and potential. But for Green Hope, they found a way for utility upgrades to not only save money and reduce energy use, but improve quality of life too.

According to Architecture 2030, 28% of global CO2 emissions come from buildings’ operations, like lighting. So why not find ways to improve the lives of families at Mercy Housing homes responsibly?

Partnerships Are the Way Forward

Our Green Hope environmental sustainability team partnered with EOC on 10 energy efficiency and water conservation projects this past fall and winter. Together, EOC and Mercy Housing’s Green Hope team are dispelling the old rumor that sustainability is a luxury. They took advantage of $585,000 in rebates and grant funding to save a collective total of more than $62,000 per year on utility expenses. For almost all of these projects, rebates and grants covered 100% of the cost.

EOC has the expertise and knowledge to navigate the complex world of utility rebates and grant funding opportunities, making sure that projects take full advantage of the financial resources available. In addition, EOC provides boots on the ground and works with trusted contractors that implement the work, all at little or no cost to affordable housing providers like Mercy Housing.

Young People Are Getting Involved Too

EOC has strategic partnerships with other local nonprofit organizations like Mile High Youth Corps to give youth ages 16-24 a chance to earn an income and learn hands-on job skills in the energy industry while serving in their communities. Mile High Youth Corps helps EOC to install things like LED lightbulbs and high-efficiency showerheads and sink aerators – a win-win for everybody involved, from residents to local youth interested in meaningful work.

Forward with Trust and Mercy

Not only does EOC provide project management from start to finish, saving property managers and maintenance managers the time and effort associated with managing and working on such projects, but EOC is often responsible for paving the way for these programs for families with low incomes to exist in the first place. EOC is unlike any other organization in the country, serving as a nonprofit that is dedicated solely to lowering the energy expenses of low-income residents. In this role, it implements low-income energy bill payment and energy efficiency programs, as well as advocates on behalf of low-income communities at the state and local level. EOC is a trusted and respected voice at the State Capitol, tirelessly advocating for the energy needs of low-income households and then working to implement the programs that it has worked to create.

According to EOC program manager, Maxwell, just as important to the success of these energy efficiency projects is Mercy Housing’s commitment to environmental sustainability, reducing our consumption of natural resources, and creating safe, durable, resident-friendly, healthier living environments. “Working with a committed organization like Mercy Housing and having a point person like [Mercy Housing’s national environmental sustainability director] Caitlin Rood makes completing these projects much easier,” says Maxwell. Not many affordable housing organizations have a dedicated environmental sustainability team like Mercy Housing’s Green Hope, and Maxwell says that this makes a huge difference in completing these projects for the people in our communities who need the help the most.

Seeing What’s Possible

outdoor picture of front of francis heights senior community with green lawn beautiful trees
Francis Heights is a Mercy Housing affordable senior community in Denver, CO.

People are noticing the impacts that these energy efficiency projects have. EOC completed a project at Mercy Housing’s Francis Heights community in Denver at the beginning of the year, a senior community with close to 400 apartment homes. EOC installed LED lighting in common areas, including in the lobby, hallways, stairwells, and gym and community center. EOC brought in the youth of Mile High Youth Corps to install more than 1,200 LED lightbulbs in residents’ homes, as well as high-efficiency showerheads and sink aerators. “We needed to update our lighting,” says Francis Heights’s maintenance technician, Nick, and EOC was able to help the property do just that. “It’s also easier to maintain [LED lighting].” Front desk clerk, Erik, talks with residents daily when they enter the lobby and wait to board the elevators. He notes how the residents are praising the recent lighting upgrades: “They really like the new lighting. It’s much brighter … They love it!” The recently-completed project at Francis Heights is estimated to save 259,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year – that offsets the same amount of carbon captured by 239 acres of forests in one year!

Plan Meets Purpose

Mercy Housing is reducing energy use because what’s good for the planet, is good for communities, and great for families. Strategic partnerships like these help Mercy Housing to deliver on our 2020-2024 Strategic Plan to provide housing that is, durable, resident-friendly, and energy-efficient to the families and individuals that need it the most. Residents are our guiding light. When we help to improve daily life and save water for future generations, all while saving money — this is how we’re putting our plan into action.