Guest blog by Matt Irish

Matt poses with part of Nuestra Comunidad’s 75 kW rooftop solar PV system at Atkins Apartments in Roxbury.

Hi, I’m Matt Irish. Normally, I’m a graduate student at the University of Michigan, but thanks to funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, I’m spending my summer here in Roxbury with Nuestra Comunidad as one of 12 EDF Climate Corps Fellows working on energy management projects with affordable housing providers across the country. For 10 weeks, I’m supporting the progress that’s already been made on benchmarking utility usage (in other words, comparing energy use at our housing developments to that of similar properties) and identifying energy investment opportunities across our affordable housing portfolio of more than 600 units. But this effort is about more than drawing in some data and shaving off a few frivolous energy charges.

Energy underpins almost every aspect of our modern lives, but retaining any prospect of a livable future requires that we drastically reduce the emissions from our consumption of it. It has become increasingly clear that this needs to be achieved on a scale not of centuries or even decades, but years. This overarching challenge sets a backdrop for profound changes to our built environment and energy systems.

We typically associate thoughts of sustainable energy with images of wind turbines rotating whimsically above endless rows of gleaming solar panels. But there’s another side to the energy story that’s much less appealing and easily as important. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration data, buildings account for about 40% of all U.S. carbon emissions—that’s more than the entire transportation industry. And that’s what brings this global-scale issue right to our doorstep in Roxbury. Multifamily affordable housing owners like Nuestra Comunidad are well suited to this take on this challenge:

  • They can achieve substantial emissions reductions by implementing energy efficiency and clean energy projects across hundreds or even thousands of housing units.
  • They have easier access to the human and capital resources needed to bring such projects to life.
  • They work with communities that have the most to gain from the economic savings and health benefits of energy efficiency and clean energy measures.

Nuestra Comunidad has recognized this for years. Long before I joined the team, Nuestra Comunidad began partnering with local, state, and federal programs to invest in energy efficiency, renewables, and improved energy management practices. Working with New Ecology, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and its Green Retrofit Initiative, Nuestra Comunidad carried out energy efficiency projects at a number of its developments and crafted its own Green Asset Management Plan complete with quantitative sustainability objectives. Several solar PV arrays installed at several developments in Roxbury and Mattapan are nearing their tenth birthdays. Years before the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule requiring utility benchmarking for multifamily affordable housing, Nuestra Comunidad began tracking energy use at all of its developments. These early commitments have extended to the organization’s other programs as well: our resident services team, for instance, connects residents with free energy efficiency services via the Renew Boston program.

But the transition to a cleaner, more energy-efficient economy is accelerating, and we can only double down on our efforts if we hope to exceed the pace of innovation and investment.

So tune in—there are plenty of hurdles to be jumped on our path toward energy leadership. Amidst all this change, I hope to help Nuestra Comunidad distinguish its energy management strategy as a model for other medium-sized community development corporations nationwide. That’s big talk for someone who’s only here for a few months helping organize utility data, identify energy investments, and chart goals, but I’m convinced by our history and the talent of my colleagues that the work will continue. Our carbon emissions may be inconsequential, but our potential to influence others and the positive impact on our community is not. The opportunity has never been greater—nor the responsibility.