Atlanta expands Better Buildings Challenge to homes in low income neighborhoods

By David Pendered

A home south of Turner Field could well be the poster child for a new Atlanta program that aims to help low income residents reduce energy payments, which can consume up to 20 percent of their household income.

Energy efficiency, house

Residents of homes in low income areas, such as this one located south of Turner Field, could get help to lower energy bills through a federal program Atlanta has joined. Credit: David Pendered

The resident in charge of the house near Turner Field has taken steps to lower energy costs. Sheets of plastic cover windows that may leak cool or warm air. Window air conditioners are properly supported, ensuring that their installations leak as little as possible.

Still, it seems a fair bet that more could be done to improve energy efficiency. That’s where the city’s new program comes in.

Atlanta has joined a federal initiative that’s part of the Better Buildings Challenge. The BBC is best known in Atlanta for enrolling almost 104 million square feet of commercial space. Building owners agree to reduce energy and water consumption for this space by 20 percent by 2020, using 2010 as a baseline.

The BBC Clean Energy in Low Income Communities Accelerator expands these energy aspirations to the residential sector.

The program has multiple objectives. The first is to lower energy costs in low income neighborhoods. The U.S. Department of Energy says in a fact sheet that energy costs above 6 percent of annual income are generally deemed unaffordable.

Energy, old school

The home, located south of Turner Field near the one pictured above, uses old school techniques to curb energy usage – substantial awnings and greenery. Credit: David Pendered

In addition, President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is promoted by efforts to increase the use of distributed energy, according to the fact sheet. Distributed energy creates electricity at sites close to consumers

The DOE’s fact sheet says the purpose of boosting use of distributed energy is to, “provide stability from rising energy costs, promote economic development, and improve the environment.”

The fact sheet goes on to note: “The 49.1 million households that earn less than $40,000 of income per year make up 40 percent of all US households but only account for less than 5 percent of solar installations.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced on May 16 the city has enrolled in the program.

“We are proud to be a Better Buildings Clean Energy in Low Income Communities Accelerator, which is aligned with the City of Atlanta’s goal to ensure that all residents have access to affordable renewable energy,” Reed said in a statement.

Atlanta has agreed to meet strict deadlines to achieve measurable results. The program calls on Atlanta to:

  • “Convene a local task force of key stakeholders whose support will be needed to increase energy effciency and distributed renewables within six months of joining;

    Energy efficiency, balcony

    The resident in charge of this home near Turner Field took great care to insulate windows as best possible with a clear cover. Credit: David Pendered

  • “Develop an action plan for expanding energy ef ciency and distributed renewables identifying clean energy potential and targets (kWh), budget needs, and potential funding sources within 12 months of joining;
  • “Complete actions identified in the energy action plan to acquire 50 percent of needed funding, solidify business partnerships, and begin installing new energy efficiency and distributed renewable projects within 24 months; share results and lessons learned with DOE and other Accelerator Partners as approaches are implemented.”

In the case of the poster child house, those window air conditioners could be replaced with a more efficient central heating and cooling unit. Other appliances likely could be upgraded with energy efficient products.

Sunset over Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge

Nearly 104 million square feet of commercial space in Atlanta has been enrolled in the Better Buildings Challenge. File/Credit: Beth Keller

In addition, an energy audit may recommend the leaky windows be repaired. Helping the homeowner get money for the job isn’t covered under the BBC program. And the ramifications of leaky windows speaks to other federal policy decisions that are relevant in any effort to improve energy consumption in the residential sector.

There was a time federal grants were available to help pay for upgrading windows and other aspects of drafty homes. However, Congress has cut funding for one such program, which Atlanta has previously used to make such repairs.

President George Bush was in office when the HOME Investment Partnerships Program was enacted in 1990. HOME is managed by the federal Department Housing and Urban Development.

Since 2010, Congress has halved the $1.8 billion amount that was provided to HOME, according to a report by the National Associations of Counties. Georgia’s share, which once totaled $23.6 million a year, was trimmed to $1.8 million at one point in time, according to a report by HUD Exchange, a one-stop shop for information on HUD programs. Further funding details about the HOME program were not immediately available.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

2 replies
  1. Steve says:

    I hope they look at water inefficiency as well. With the highest water rates in the country and a great toilet rebate program it makes sense to upgrade the water system with HE toilets, aerators and shower heads.Report

  2. Resident says:

    As a home owner in a “low income neighborhood” using plastic to cover windows is fairly common. My neighbors and I do not have central hvac units, and so those of us who can afford to run a window unit in summer and use fireplaces in winter are simply making the best of what we have. Replacing “those window air conditioners… with a more efficient central heating and cooling unit” costs thousands of dollars to buy and would result in my power bill doubling. 

    As you note that “Helping the homeowner get money for the job isn’t covered under the BBC program” save your money on this useless program. My know the issues, and how to solve them if we had an open checkbook.Report


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