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Low-Income Renters Face High Energy Burdens

Low-Income Renters

Digested from “Poor Renters Devote More of Their Income to Keeping the Lights On”
Next City (4/21/16) Kinney, Jen

If you’re black, Latino or low-income or you live in a multifamily dwelling or rent your property, you’re more likely to spend a greater share of your paycheck on energy bills than other households.

That’s what the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and The Energy Efficiency for All Coalition discovered when they surveyed household energy costs in some of America's biggest cities. Looking at all 48 cities surveyed — America's largest — the report’s authors found that household energy burdens averaged 3.5 percent.

But among low-income households, the burden more than doubled to more than 7 percent. For low-income households living in multifamily buildings, the median energy burden was 5 percent, and for renters, it was 4 percent. The report estimates that high energy burdens could be reduced by 35 percent if low-income and multifamily low-income households achieved energy efficiency levels equal to those of the average U.S. household.

Renting households that achieved median energy efficiency levels could lower their energy burdens by 97 percent.

In other findings, the average energy burden for black households was 5.4 percent, and for Latino households, it was a little more than 4 percent. Increasing energy efficiency to the U.S. average could reduce energy burdens in black households by 42 percent and in Latino households by 68 percent.

Families in those demographics would benefit from energy upgrades, but in practice, increasing energy efficiency is a challenge, especially for occupants of multifamily housing.

Julia Friedman, senior policy manager for the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a member of the Energy Efficiency for All coalition, told Midwest Energy News that “delivering energy efficiency to multifamily buildings is difficult when the energy savings accrue to the renters who may not have the legal or financial ability to make improvements to their units or the incentive due to the fact that the payback for the improvements may be longer than the terms of their lease.”

Credit incentives and rebate programs could encourage low-income communities to make energy efficiency investments.

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