Providing affordable housing that is safe and comfortable for individuals and families is a significant challenge for communities across the country. Leaders are tasked with stretching the available budget and finding creative ways to make the money do more. Many are exploring creative approaches to reducing expenses so they can focus on the important issues of maintenance, renovations and keeping the rent costs reasonable for residents.
The Athol-Orange Housing Authority in Central Massachusetts manages more than 150 units in the two communities, making it possible for clients to secure rental housing that meets their specific needs and current circumstances. The Authority oversees the application process, income eligibility and rental agreements and also handles the maintenance and repairs at each site.
A master electric meter at each of the buildings means that the Authority is responsible for paying the electric bills, which can be quite expensive. “This is one of our largest expenses, so it represented one of our most promising areas for savings,” noted stated Christi Martin, Executive Director. “We heard about community solar programs and the opportunity to offset some of our electric costs without having to install solar panels or make any capital investment. These factors are very important to us because we don’t have the money to invest and many of the roofs on our buildings are not suitable for solar. Learning that we could embrace renewable energy and save money at the same time was very appealing to us and our Board.”
Nexamp approached the Athol-Orange Housing Authority with details about its specific program and how it would work to produce the savings, walking leaders through the details and providing information they could share with the Board that oversees operations. The Authority had considered two other programs but did not feel comfortable with the specifics there. Martin said that one even offered to beat any competitive bid, but she didn’t like the fact that the project they would be subscribing to was not even located in the state.
“Our Board was very happy that we could get these potential savings and also be contributing to a truly local renewable energy project,” she explained. “Community is important to us and we were drawn to the opportunity to be part of a local project with Nexamp.”
The Authority is saving more than it expected when it first signed the agreement, which is great news for everyone involved. With those savings, it has been able to invest more money in the tools and equipment needed for maintenance, as well as spend more money on needed renovations across all units. The benefit there is that typically Housing Authorities have no extra money to spend and very little discretionary funding for things like improvements.
“I estimate that we are saving at least 50% on our annual electric costs,” added Martin. “To be honest, the amount we are saving is shocking to me. And it was so easy to make it happen. Ultimately, our tenants are the ones who are really benefiting from this because they are seeing improvements in the units and in our response to needed repairs.”
In addition to the community solar program, the Athol-Orange Housing Authority also implemented some efficiency improvements across the board. Energy audits revealed other opportunities for savings, so more energy-efficient lightbulbs have been installed and some of the building insulation has been upgraded in certain locations. But Martin pointed out that none of the other efficiency measures are able to match the savings delivered by the community solar program. Any reservations the Board may have had before signing on to the program are gone now that the savings are visible in the operating budget and the extra money is being put to good use.