This article was originally published in the September/October 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1994

National Affordable Housing Network

Encouraging the potential of energy-efficiency to make housing more affordable has a new champion with the creation of the National Affordable Housing Network. The Network's mission is making housing affordable through the use of appropriate and sustainable technologies and methods. The goal is to focus the best minds in the energy and resource efficiency business on the problem of low-income housing, says Network President Bob Corbett.

In an earlier incarnation, the Network was an informal grouping of organizations from Washington, California, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin, which put together coalitions aimed at helping low-income housing producers. One of these, Habitat for Humanity, the nation's 17th largest builder in 1993, is particularly interested in making energy-efficient homes. The organization built 10,000 homes last year and is represented in more than 1,000 communities, making it the nation's largest and most broad-based low-income housing organization. Network staff worked with Habitat for more than two years, and earlier this year they surveyed more than 30 other housing organizations, to assess needs and options in energy-efficiency program designs.

Barriers to the Adoption of Energy Efficiency in Low-Cost Housing Production, a paper to be presented by Network executive director Barbara Miller at this year's American Council for an Energy Efficient-Economy (ACEEE) Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings, describes the results of the survey and the staff's experiences working with low-cost housing producers.

The paper notes that in the absence of an integrated, coordinated federal new-construction program, low-income-housing producers must rely on a patchwork system of energy-related programs which often contradict each other and may not save energy in the long run. (Coordination of federal program efforts was a chief need listed by housing organizations.) As a result, most low-cost housing is not energy-efficient and reflects minimum property standards.

The lack of coordination makes it easy to miss valuable resources. For example, more than ten states now offer standardized home-energy rating programs which allow builders to get an inspection and a rating to put a value on energy savings to enable them to qualify for energy-efficient mortgage funds. Yet significant federal energy-efficient mortgage funds went unspent. Utilities spend millions of dollars on residential efficiency programs, but often don't reach (or their programs are inappropriate for) low-cost housing producers.

Another resource is DOE's Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). With proper support and redirection, WAP could assist housing organizations at the grassroots level with new construction energy programs. Today, however, most housing organizations have little contact with WAP providers.

Once organized and coordinated, energy-efficiency programs that are already available could help finance and bring technical support to the long process of change. But, these programs must be coordinated, and the serious gaps in service and support must be addressed and remedied.

  No nation or region has been able to accelerate change in residential building practices without following a certain set of procedures. These steps include setting a savings target that is worth fighting for (10%-25% savings are replaced by a more dramatic 50%-60% savings), agreeing to a credible evaluation method for determining whether the target is being met, and providing field demonstrations and training programs which have a solid basis in respected research. In addition, successful efforts provide technical assistance and support to help builders meet the target, and they also provide support for the extra marginal costs of efficiency.

The Network is seeking support for a program to develop low-cost prototypes for hot-climate housing, beginning this year in Texas. The group wants to build coalitions of utilities, foundations, and local housing producers to get such demonstrations underway in all climate zones. The Network will also work to connect experts in the energy field with housing advocacy organizations and providers, through a computer network.

The Network is an outgrowth of a housing program effort begun several years ago by National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) staff. Former NCAT staff moved to the new organization following the end of the National Appropriate Technology Assistance Service (NATAS), which NCAT had operated for a decade for the U.S. Department of Energy. Former NATAS program manager George Everett is director of communications.

-- Barbara Miller

Barbara Miller is executive director of the Affordable Housing Network in Butte, Montana.


A new logo for a new organization: the National Affordable Housing Network is working with local and regional energy-efficiency organizations to make housing affordable through a variety of sustainable technologies and methods.


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