Relief bill includes $6.5 million for Gateway City green home retrofits

Environment Massachusetts

BOSTON – A new program to retrofit homes in the Gateway Cities to be energy-efficient and fossil-fuel-free will receive $6.5 million in funding, under a COVID-19 relief bill signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker today.

The retrofit program is based closely on the GREEN Act (H.3320, S.2152), a bill filed by state Reps. Natalie Higgins and Michael Kushmerek and state Sen. Brendan Crighton at the beginning of the 2021–22 legislative session.

“Low-income residents and communities must be a part of the plan to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and transition to 100 percent renewable energy,” said Rep. Natalie Higgins (Leominster). “I’m incredibly excited about the opportunities this new funding will create for Gateway Cities and other low-income communities across the Commonwealth.”

“I am thrilled to work alongside Rep. Higgins and Sen. Crighton to bring critical resources to Gateway Cities, like my hometown Fitchburg, that will simultaneously modernize affordable and market-rate housing, reduce emissions, lower costs and produce a higher quality of life for the end-consumer,” said Rep. Michael Kushmerek (Fitchburg)

“This investment will help our low-income and moderate-income residents in Gateway Cities significantly save on their energy bills while reducing harmful greenhouse gasses,” said Sen. Brendan P. Crighton (Lynn). “Let’s continue to embrace equity-oriented policy solutions like this one to combat climate change across our state.”

The pilot program (H.4269, section 1599-2035) will retrofit existing low- and moderate-income housing in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities as well as other communities with similar demographics. The retrofitted housing units will be highly energy-efficient, use clean heating technologies such as heat pumps, and where possible include on-site renewable energy generation like rooftop solar.

Data will be collected on energy and utility bill savings, air quality improvements, and reductions in greenhouse gas pollution resulting from the retrofits, in order to inform a potential future expansion of the program.

Advocates praised the inclusion of this funding as an important step to clean up Massachusetts’ buildings and bring healthier, more efficient housing to all residents.

“Reducing the fossil fuels we use in our buildings will mean cleaner air, healthier communities, and a safer climate for all of us,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “This funding is an important first step to retrofit some of Massachusetts’ most challenging housing stock and bring us closer to a future where all of our homes are powered with clean energy. Thanks to Rep. Higgins, Rep. Kushmerek, and Sen. Crighton for championing this proposal, as well as the House and Senate leaders who ensured its inclusion in the relief bill.”

“Funding housing retrofits for Gateway City residents is an investment in our state’s recovery from COVID, while also paving the way for cleaner, healthier communities. Alleviating the joint climate and housing crises is exactly what this pilot program is designed to do,” said Sarah Dooling, executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network. “Rep. Higgins, Rep. Kushmerek, and Sen. Crighton are the kinds of state climate champions who are propelling an equitable transition to clean energy. We cannot afford to keep anyone on fossil fuels, and this funding ensures housing is healthy, affordable to heat and cool and part of climate mitigation efforts for residents in Gateway Cities.”

“With approximately 2 million existing buildings in Massachusetts that will require decarbonization by 2050, substantial funding for programs to improve our existing housing will be critical for the Commonwealth to achieve the targets established by the Legislature and Governor earlier this year in the landmark Roadmap Legislation,” said Cammy Peterson, director of clean energy at MAPC. “More immediately, low- and moderate-income residents in Gateway Cities have historically been underserved by our clean energy programs, and will greatly benefit from the improved health and resilience impacts of better insulated, weatherized, energy-efficient, and cleanly heated homes.”

“This pilot program is the first step to a green recovery that will benefit communities hurt most by COVID and by the climate crisis,” said Jess Nahigian, political and legislative director for the Massachusetts Sierra Club. “We look forward to the implementation, analysis, and expansion of this program. It is vital that the next round of federal money, and the next state spending programs be focused on similar solutions that will simultaneously decarbonize and build a safer, healthier, more affordable future for all people in the commonwealth.”

“We need everybody to transition to renewable power and heat,” said Laura Spark, senior policy advocate for Clean Water Action. “Those least able to afford a building retrofit may have the most to gain in terms of lowered energy costs and improved indoor and neighborhood air quality. That’s why it is so important that Massachusetts invests in this pilot to test retrofit approaches and document results.”

Buildings are responsible for a large share of Massachusetts’ global warming pollution. Burning oil and gas in residential and commercial buildings, primarily for heating and hot water, produces 27 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, and electricity is responsible for an additional 17 percent of emissions. Pollution from fossil fuels also harms our health, contributing to asthma, heart attack, and premature birth.

Many houses and apartments in Gateway Cities were built more than a century ago. These buildings often use energy inefficiently, due to a lack of insulation, old appliances, and outdated lighting fixtures. Most homes burn oil or gas for heating, and residents — particularly low- and moderate-income families — may lack the opportunity to switch to cleaner alternatives.