California affordable housing gets solar push

State and federal leaders joined together Thursday to start a pilot project aimed at providing more money for solar energy projects in multifamily housing in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro announced the project from the roof of Marlton Manor, a San Francisco affordable housing project in the Tenderloin neighborhood where solar panels provide energy.

Brown said of the work to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil, reduce carbon emissions and use the sun for energy:

“This is a long slog into the future.”

Assisting the state and federal effort will be the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which has committed $10 million to the plans.

Debra Schwartz, the foundation’s director of impact investments, said:

“No one tool alone is enough to get the job done.”

Schwartz said she hopes the foundation will start providing money this year:

“We’re working very rapidly.”

The money from the foundation will be in the form of loans, guarantees and other financial instruments, but not grants, she said. Ophelia Basgal, regional administrator for HUD, said the agency has identified three properties in the Bay Area, all in San Francisco, where the work can begin.

Basgal’s office oversees properties in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada and the outer Pacific Islands. The governor allocated $75 million for weatherizing properties and for renewable energy last year. Some of this money will be used to do energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in low income housing in disadvantaged communities.

Mercy Housing’s CEO Jane Graf, whose organization will be part of the effort, said the work will make a difference to people and the environment. For one, the solar energy and energy efficiency projects are expected to save taxpayers and renters of affordable housing money as the projects reduce utility bills.

HUD spends about $6.4 billion each year on utilities in affordable housing units and for other households, officials said. With about one quarter of U.S. households living in multifamily housing, improving energy efficiency by 20 percent in multifamily units would reduce energy costs by $7 billion in a decade.

Also, the gains in energy efficiency nationwide in multifamily housing would reduce carbon pollution by 350 million tons in a decade, officials said.