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Giving low-income families the equitable benefits of solar.

In New York City, there are currently over a million people living under the poverty line; a significant community that has been traditionally underserved by alternative energy programs like solar and shut out of the economic benefits. A well-thought-out and structured affordable housing solar program can work to change this, encouraging participation and providing proportionate access to all income classes. We have been working to create this program with our partners to open up access for all income classes.

Solar for Affordable Housing: Not Just an Income Problem

The first step to creating a structured program is to deconstruct some of the myths surrounding low-income participation in solar.
One of the primary misconceptions is that money alone prevents participation. We have found that the reality is far more complex than the initial financial hurdle, but comes from the options faced by households as a result of their income status, such as renting versus owning, inability to harness tax incentives, lack of financing options and even whether they pay their bill or the affordable housing organization does.

The low participation rate of low-to-moderate income families in community solar programs can be attributed to a variety of reasons that include:

  • High costs of direct installation of solar panels on a rooftop
  • Lack of financing options
  • Inability to harness federal and/or state tax incentives
  • Renting versus homeownership
  • No control of roof space due to multi-family housing

Larger Impact of Solar on Affordable Housing

The second step is understanding the scope of impact, and that alone should act as a motivator for affordable housing organizations serving New York State. Solar programs can reduce the cost of electricity for low-to-moderate income households up to 10% and also become a source of income for affordable housing organizations. Low-to-moderate households pay almost three times the amount on energy costs compared to any other income level – add this to the fact that households in the state of New York pays more for energy than the average amount of all of America, and you have a group of people who will experience the positive impact disproportionately to all other groups.

When affordable housing organizations with rooftop space can transform solar into a source of income when they partner with a solar project developer. The developer takes on all the risks of a rooftop solar installation in exchange for a long-term rooftop lease on a multifamily dwelling. What would normally be a significant upfront investment instead becomes a low-risk income stream.

Founder of OYA Solar, Manish Nayar, says: “For square footage that would otherwise go unused, these building owners can establish a consistent revenue stream for up to 25 years in exchange for a leased roof, all the while providing their community with affordable clean energy.”

Solar Increases Property Value of Affordable Housing

Putting solar on affordable housing can also result in a ripple effect on property values and capital costs. Just installing solar panels on a rooftop adds significant value to the building, and any rooftop repairs the developer takes on helps to decrease the future capital expenditure on building maintenance.

Working Together on Community Solar Programs

OYA Solar believes in pulling together the best people and organizations to affect change, which is why we are working with Crauderueff & Associates to install over 200 community plus storage solar projects for affordable housing units in New York City that will be developed over the next few years. In addition to New York City, OYA Solar is continually seeking out partnerships with organizations across North America to bring solar to the underserved low-to-moderate income community, but also to expand our impact on reducing carbon emissions. And we welcome any inquiries or requests.

Solar for affordable housing is a significant opportunity for affordable housing organizations to serve LMI households better that risks becoming a missed opportunity. Low-to-moderate income households gain access to energy choice and the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint, while affordable housing organizations gain an income stream with no capital investment. With decreasing solar costs, now is the best time for affordable housing to seek out partnerships with developers and go solar for low-to-moderate income households.

Solar programs are not beyond economic reach for affordable housing organizations and the low-to-moderate income households they serve. Supported by innovative and well-thought-out solar programs, these barriers to access can be overcome and result in a more equitable energy future, where everyone can participate in renewable energy programs.