HUD announces nearly $1B to make low-income homes climate-friendly

The Biden administration on Thursday will take a major step toward ensuring low-income Americans reap the benefits of Democrats’ landmark climate law, as the White House seeks to invest in poor and minority communities that have historically borne the brunt of pollution.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will announce the availability of nearly $1 billion for low-income multifamily housing to become more energy-efficient, water-efficient and resilient to climate disasters. The funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act, the sweeping climate law that President Biden signed last summer.

The climate law offers households thousands of dollars to switch from fossil-fuel-powered appliances to cleaner versions, including up to $7,500 for a new electric vehicle and up to $2,000 for a new electric heat pump. Yet many low-income Americans may not be aware of these subsidies, or they may lack the time and resources to claim them.

To address this issue, the law provided HUD with $837.5 million in grant funding and $4 billion in loan commitment authority to implement the Green and Resilient Retrofit Program, which will pay for owners of low-income housing to install rooftop solar panels, heat pumps and other climate-friendly upgrades.

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“Our mission is to make sure that low-income people are participants in what we believe is going to be one of the biggest climate-focused projects across this country,” HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said in an interview Wednesday. Fudge will announce the funding Thursday in Center Line, Mich., alongside White House climate advisers John D. Podesta and Ali Zaidi.

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Already, HUD helps property owners offer reduced rent to low-income tenants by paying a portion of their rent. Under the new program, these property owners can apply for grants or loans to cover upgrades that improve energy efficiency, reduce water use or increase resilience to weather disasters. The spending could trickle down to tenants in the form of lower utility bills without increasing their rent.

A HUD official estimated hundreds of properties will receive the new funding, covering tens of thousands of households. But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, acknowledged the $837.5 million in grant money will not be enough to reach all 23,495 properties with multifamily assisted-housing units.

“Nearly $1 billion sounds like a lot,” the official said. “It’s not a lot to reach all of them. But it will reach a lot of them.”

Most at risk from climate change

As climate change has increased the frequency and severity of natural disasters, it is often low-income communities that get hit the hardest.

For example, when Hurricane Harvey inundated southern Texas in 2017, poor households were concentrated in more flood-prone parts of the region, taking on more water and experiencing greater property damage. A year later, many low-income residents reported living in moldy, water-ravaged homes because they could only afford a fraction of the necessary repairs. Nearly 80 percent of affected households did not have flood insurance, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The people who are harmed [by disasters] are disproportionately poor,” Fudge said. “The people who cannot afford flood insurance … these are the people who actually need more attention than the others.”

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The new federal spending is meant to help strengthen homes before the next disaster strikes. For instance, property owners can apply for funding to add fortified roofs that protect against hurricanes and high winds, or fireproof shingles that guard against flames.

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The program will also cover better home insulation, which can prevent heat from escaping in the winter and cool air from escaping in the summer. That will let families run their air conditioners or heating appliances less frequently, helping them save more money on utility bills.

Biden vowed early in his presidency to place environmental justice at the center of his plans to combat climate change and shift the nation toward clean energy. He has directed the federal government to spend at least 40 percent of its sustainability investments on disadvantaged communities.

The new program comes as House Republicans seek to repeal the clean-energy tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act that they view as reckless government spending. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has called for ending “the green giveaways that distort the market and waste taxpayers’ money,” although he has not specifically targeted the Green and Resilient Retrofit Program.

In response, White House officials have highlighted that programs in the climate law have benefited residents of red and blue states — a point that Fudge emphasized in defending the new spending.

“Low-income housing is an issue in every single city, in every single state,” Fudge said. “It doesn’t make any difference if the representatives are Democrats or Republicans.”

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