|Energy Efficiency within Affordable Housing|
Storytelling—Making the Case for Energy Efficiency Within Affordable Housing
By: Taí Coates and Raisa Johnson at the National Housing Trust
Tracey Lee loves living at Copeland Manor. She moved to the building because the neighborhood was quiet, accessible to her work, and, most importantly, her rent is reasonable. However, the long-term affordability of the property wasn’t always guaranteed. In 2006 the property was offered for sale, and only one thing was certain: rents would rise for the working families and seniors living at Copeland Manor.
Over 11 million Americans spend more than half their income on rent, and, yet, affordable housing resources are scarce and under threat. Furthermore, renters face a double burden of some of the highest energy burdens in the country as a result of energy inefficient housing. To increase public support for investment in energy efficient and affordable housing, we need to change the way we advocate. We must build a broader coalition beyond traditional energy efficiency stakeholders by amplifying new voices and creating channels to build awareness of affordable housing needs.
This is where storytelling comes in.
In 2017, the National Housing Trust (NHT)and Enterprise Community Partners launched Where Will We Live? to lift the voices of affordable housing residents and community members in support of housing resources. The campaign uses storytelling to draw the connection between access to affordable housing and health, education, and economic opportunity. Tracey Lee is just one of nearly 200 residents and community members who shared their personal experiences related to affordable housing.
The link between energy efficiency and affordable housing is not always obvious to non-energy experts. Many people struggle privately with high energy bills without realizing the significant bill savings offered by energy efficiency or that working families can access energy efficiency through program like the Weatherization Assistance Program and Maryland’s own EmPOWER program.
Sharing resident stories with elected officials and community members can highlight how energy efficiency directly impacts the lives of working-class families and the surrounding community. These are not just numbers, facts, or figures. The stories present real people: nurses, students, immigrants, refugees and single parents. By sharing their stories, these communities are helping to educate and advocate for additional resources to help break the poverty cycle in their communities and ensure that everyone has access to an affordable, quality home. The stories in the Where Will We Live? gallery paint a vivid picture that help to deconstruct and explain a complicated issue, demonstrating that a well-documented story can change perspectives and inspire action through empathy and shared experiences. The National Housing Trust and Enterprise hope that fellow advocates and educators use and share the Where Will We Live stories for their own education advocacy efforts.
NHT has created a storytelling toolkit as a guide for advocates. By helping our partners understand how to create and frame a message and target the right audience, we hope to inspire fellow housing champions who want to replicate our efforts and successfully employ digital, visual and audio storytelling strategies within their advocacy tactics. The stories have been shared across a number of platforms, with federal and local elected officials, and at leadership workshops and local community events. Now in our second year, the campaign continues to round out the conversation by interviewing community leaders on the impact of access to affordable housing for an entire community, not just the residents.
With assistance from the National Housing Trust, the residents of Copeland Manor including Ms. Lee were able to use energy efficiency savings to ensure that all residents were able to stay in their homes. Ms. Lee is adamant about the benefits of energy efficiency that she has seen: “That’s gas you can go put in your vehicle. You can go get some bread or some milk or some eggs. Especially when you have seniors on a fixed income. [Saving $10, $20, or $30 a month] helps out a whole lot.”
To see Ms. Lee’s whole story, and more, check out the Where Will We Live story gallery.
The Where Will We Live story gallery is a resource available to all. We invite you to use these stories for your advocacy or communication purposes, to help make the case for housing. Now more than ever, we need to call for greater resources to help those most in need. If you have a story to tell. Please contact Taí Coates at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Energy burden is calculated as the total residential cost of energy as a percentage of household annual income.
 Drehobl, A., & Ross, L. (2016, July 13). Lifting the High Energy Burden in America’s Largest Cities: How Energy Efficiency Can Improve Low-Income and Underserved Communities. Retrieved from http://aceee.org/research-report/u1602