Better Buildings Challenge

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Last week, LISC Boston convened 20 affordable housing owners enrolled in the Green Retrofit Initiative (GRI) across Massachusetts to share success stories and lessons learned from the Better Buildings Challenge (BBC), a HUD program that provides technical expertise and support to building owners who commit to a 20% portfolio-wide energy reduction over ten years. At the peer learning session, three GRI participants spoke about how the BBC has helped them not only reduce energy consumption, but save up to 40% on energy costs.

Facilities and Sustainability Manager Elizabeth Merzigian, of Peabody Properties, Inc., said that participation in the Green Retrofit Initiative makes it easy to join the BBC. “LISC has already helped [owners] input their building data into WegoWise as part of their participation in the Green Retrofit Initiative, so the Better Buildings Challenge can link your WegoWise data to EPA Portfolio Manager,” the program HUD uses to track energy savings. With the BBC’s technical assistance, Peabody Properties was able to find additional groups that finance energy retrofits, and has seen fantastic savings. New Ecology, Inc.’s technical consultant Andy Proulx confirmed that BBC participants have saved from 20% to upwards of 50% in some buildings. As an added bonus, he added that energy conversions have meant building staff are “not changing lightbulbs all the time.”

Building owners are not the only ones who benefit from the BBC. Scott Ployer, Vice President of Facilities and Capital Planning at Peabody Properties, explained that rising utility costs lead to rent increases. Because the BBC helps owners cut utility costs, the program protects low-income residents themselves. Nancy Reno, Vice President of Marketing and Training at Housing Management Resources, Inc., added, “As we bring the residents in, they really start to get that buy-in and want to help save because they see the benefits of the program.” “I am an evangelist for the BBC, said Ployer. “For anyone who’s considering signing on, this is really a no-brainer.” Since Massachusetts has the best utility programs in the entire country, “signing on is a commitment to no-cost and low-cost energy reductions.”

Energy-saving technologies are increasingly complex, and the BBC is committed to training participants’ operations staff on how to maintain them. Matthew Holden, president of the Sparhawk Group, one of the building energy consultants for the program, said that the BBC has helped his owner partners save at least 15% on energy costs “by just paying attention to [their] buildings and making sure they’re running well.” He noted that the BBC will be supporting the training of “supertechs,” operations staff who understand how all the new energy systems in their buildings work.

Marcia Hannon, Senior Project Manager at CASCAP, Inc., a GRI participant that recently joined the Better Buildings Challenge, added a final reason for participating in the program: “Doing this is helping the entire country move in the right direction.”

So far, six GRI members have signed onto the BBC. LISC applauds them for their leadership, and encourages more owners to join this fantastic program that benefits affordable housing owners and residents alike.

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