Issues of the Environment: Ann Arbor looks to become 1st in the nation to decarbonize an entire neighborhood
- The Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development together with Ann Arbor’s sustainability office has planned to create the first decarbonized neighborhood in America. The goal is to decarbonize about 30 homes in the Bryant neighborhood in southeast Ann Arbor. The grant requests up to $2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
- The grant covers solar panel installations, workforce development and community building, weatherization, and other home improvements that save energy.
- The median income in the Bryant neighborhood is about 40% less than the average for the city of Ann Arbor (Bryant: $45,000; Ann Arbor: $75,000). 38% of Bryant residents are foreign born, 55% identify as a race other than white, and 60% of households are families, groups that are more likely to be energy-burdened. Over a third of Bryant residents are considered energy-burdened, paying more than 6% of their income for energy costs. (Source: https://www.city-data.com/neighborhood/Bryant-Ann-Arbor-MI.html) Residents making less than 200% of the federal poverty level (in 2022, around $27,000 for a family of four), are eligible for funding.
- According to national studies, households that receive weatherization services can expect heating costs to be reduced 20 to 25 percent. At today's fuel cost, that amounts to about a $300 savings. As fuel costs continue to rise, even greater savings will result. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/1861)
- According to mlive - Ann Arbor, “Free home improvements would be offered to income-eligible households to fully electrify and decarbonize homes, OCED Director Teresa Gillotti said in a memo. “This would involve using deep energy retrofits, electrification of all appliances and installation of renewable energy sources,” she wrote. “These comprehensive improvements can cost tens of thousands of dollars per home.””
- Elevate Energy, the University of Michigan, DTE Energy, locally owned Homeland Solar, and Michigan Saves, have committed to project partnership and financial support of $875,000.
- Missy Stults, Sustainability and Innovations Manager, says she is very excited about this project, and it will help the city get closer to it’s A2Zero climate change mitigation goals. She says that carbon-neutrality in the Bryant neighborhood could potentially happen by 2025-26.
Bryant neighborhood statistics
- White 2177 45%
- Black 1,148 23.9%
- Asian 842 17.5%
- Two or more races 325 6.8%
- Hispanic or Latino 295 6.1%
- Some other race 20 0.4%
- 109 Less than $10,000
- 234 $10,000 to $19,999
- 322 $20,000 to $29,999
- 170 $30,000 to $39,999
- 170 $40,000 to $49,999
- 259 $50,000 to $59,999
- 157 $60,000 to $74,999
- 133 $75,000 to $99,999
- 116 $100,000 to $124,999
- 95 $125,000 to $149,999
- 80 $150,000 to $199,999
- Percentage of family households: Bryant: 59.3% Ann Arbor: 32.9%
- Percentage of married-couple families (among all households): Here: 40.3% Ann Arbor: 35.2%
- Percentage of married-couple families with children (among all households): Bryant: 29.7% Ann Arbor: 30.7%
(Source: *directly quoted* https://www.city-data.com/neighborhood/Bryant-Ann-Arbor-MI.html)
Dr. Missy Stults
Dr. Missy Stults is the Sustainability and Innovations Manager for the City of Ann Arbor. In this role, she works with all city operations, residents, businesses, the University of Michigan, nonprofits, and others to make Ann Arbor one of the most sustainable and equitable cities in America. Prior to joining the City, Missy worked with local governments and indigenous communities around the nation to advance their climate and sustainability goals, including during her time as the Climate Director at ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability and as a consultant to philanthropic organizations. Missy has a PhD in urban resilience from the University of Michigan, a Masters in Climate and Society from Columbia University, and undergraduate degrees in Marine Biology and Environmental Science from the University of New England. firstname.lastname@example.org (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.a2gov.org/departments/sustainability/about/Pages/Our-Team.aspx)
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU and welcome to another edition of Issues of the Environment. I'm David Fair, and today we're going to talk about Ann Arbor's ongoing efforts to decarbonize the city, and there's a new project to discuss. The city is planning to create the first decarbonized neighborhood anywhere in the country. Here to discuss how and when that's going to take place in the Bryant neighborhood on the southeast side is Missy Stults. Missy is Ann Arbor sustainability and innovations manager, and good to talk with you again.
Missy Stults: David, always great to talk with you. Thanks for the opportunity.
David Fair: In looking at which neighborhood to choose in Ann Arbor, what made Bryant the best suited to launch this project?
Missy Stults: Yeah, there's a few rationales that we looked at. One is Bryant really is kind of the last naturally occurring affordable housing that we have in the community. It's an area that is what we would call a front line neighborhood. It's right next to the city's landfill. It's right next to the highway. It's an area that, honestly, has been underinvested in for a really long time. So, we were looking to figure out how to solve the climate crisis. We made a really strategic decision that we would focus on those who have been hurt first and worst by climate change and systemic racism. that they would benefit first and most.
David Fair: That is an ongoing problem. And to further describe the neighborhood whose average incomes significantly lower than the city average, the majority are minorities, and it is mostly made up of families that endure energy burden. That means six percent or more of their income is spent on energy. Missy, in making the determination to focus on Brian. How much of it was statistical analysis, and how much was actually talking with the people that live there?
Missy Stults: Both. Bryant is actually 262 households that are kind of centered around the Bryant Community Center. And so, one of the levers that we had is we've been working really, really closely with the Bryant Community Center, which is run by Community Action Network--CAN--and we've been doing a number of projects together, including actually that residents of Bryant helped hire one of the staff members in the Office of Sustainability or community engagement specialist Galen Hardy. They came in, they did interviews, and they helped me identify who the right candidate was that they would want to engage with. And so, we have this history, kind of, in the neighborhood of working with residents, working with CAN. And so, that absolutely helped. Then you overlay the statistics, and you've got a scenario where you have an opportunity to actually do kind of the equity and sustainability work hand in hand.
David Fair: What is going to be the price tag on decarbonizing Bryant, and where's that money going to come from?
Missy Stults: Yeah. So, actually, last week, not too long ago, we put in a grant to help decarbonize the first 30 homes in the neighborhood. And so, that went to the U.S. Department of Energy--fingers, eyes, ears, legs, toes, everything's crossed that that manifests itself. It's a strong proposal with a lot of community support. So, hopefully, that materializes. That ask is for $2 million to help, which includes weatherization services. So, for those who may know, weatherization is a program that's run by the federal government here. It's applied through the county's Office of Community and Economic Development, and it helps individuals who are under a 200 percent or below the federal poverty line make improvements in their home, comfort to safety. But here's a little secret. There are a lot of people in Ann Arbor, who are just over 200 percent of the federal poverty level because it's expensive in Ann Arbor. So they don't qualify. But the market doesn't serve them. They can't go out and necessarily get a bank loan. They can't get the great rates you and I can secure. And so, really, they can't get help. And then there's a whole segment of people who are what we would call too poor to actually get weatherization. They may qualify. Weatherization doesn't cover a new roof or a hole in your wall--
David Fair: And disqualifies you from the weatherization, right?
Missy Stults: Right. That's right. So, this program that the federal government put out actually allows you to get homes weatherization-ready to make those improvements that we can never make and then to do the weatherization improvements. So, this was an extraordinary opportunity to go further faster with the community to decarbonize.
David Fair: 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment continues with our guest Missy Stults. She is Ann Arbor's sustainability and innovations manager. And let's talk a little bit more in specific. You mentioned weatherization, but if I understand correctly, these homes might also become fully electrified, meaning all appliances retrofitted to attach to the electric grid and I assume, away from gas appliances?
Missy Stults: Yep, yep. So there's a number of things stacked in this. There's the weatherization rate. We need to be living in efficient, comfortable homes, but we also need those homes to be healthy homes. And we know that natural gas systems combust on site, especially that cooktop that you're working with. Most of us don't live in homes that are properly ventilated, which means we're breathing in toxic fumes. Our indoor air quality is often hundreds of times worse than what is legally allowable outdoors because of that range not being properly ventilated. So, part of the program is to help folks electrify, switch over, and of course, doing that efficiency helps make sure that you're not spending a lot of money on electric appliances because now you've lowered the amount of energy you actually use. And it also includes onsite solar and potentially even storage systems. You're generating your own power to run those electric appliances that are cleaner and healthier and more comfortable home.
David Fair: Now, obviously, there is a movement towards renewables, and you mentioned onsite solar. Are we talking neighborhood solar, or are we talking individual home solar?
Missy Stults: We are talking individual home solar to start. Although another initiative the city has is exploring the creation of what's known as a sustainable energy utility, which would mean, eventually, we would connect these houses together, so they would share power. But, right now, we are talking kind of on your roof, helping power your home.
David Fair: Once again, we're talking with Ann Arbor sustainability and Innovations manager Missy Stults on 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment. Obviously, the city of Ann Arbor has its A2Zero plan, and it hopes to have the city carbon neutral by the year 2030. By decarbonizing Bryant, how much further does that push you along towards that end goal?
Missy Stults: It's an enormous step. What it's doing is doing proof of concept, but, in the process, we're also training workforce. So, we have more people that are able to do this work--good-paying local jobs, electricians, HVAC installers. That's part of the project we submitted for. But it also means we're buying a lot of materials to do the electrification work, and others can access the discounts that we secure from buying in bulk, which makes it that much easier for you and me and other people to start accessing the technologies, the appliances, the services that we need to decarbonize. And that's really powerful work. And again, it hasn't been done. You didn't ask me this, but I'm going to just kind of insert. Part of this project, it's definitely about equitably decarbonizing. It's also about neighborhood stabilization and making sure we get intergenerational wealth to stay with the people in the neighborhood. And so, that's another layer to the project that we're working on, too.
David Fair: With that in mind, it is not the only area of the city of Ann Arbor in need. Based on the presumed success of this program, is it one that will be expanded further?
Missy Stults: Yeah. One of the metrics that we're using--and we put into the grant--was at least three neighborhoods in Washtenaw County are replicating the model within the next two to three years once we, you know, if we're successful in getting that grant. The idea is absolutely not kind of drawing a boundary around Bryant saying, "This is it." It's figuring out ways that this can scale within our own county. So not just in Ann Arbor, but throughout the whole county. And then also sharing those lessons learned creating replication resources, networking, so it scales across the country.
David Fair: Now is there going to be an application process for those that have been identified as eligible for this program? Or is it just a matter of notification of when we're getting started in your home?
Missy Stults: Yeah. So, we actually have a lot of families in need in this neighborhood, which is part of the reason we're working in this neighborhood. So, likely, there will be an application process. We started working on that. We actually are already in the neighborhood. We've been working in Bryant for about 18 months with residents to do some of the preliminary work to get us to this point. And we have a waitlist. Anyone that's interested that happens to live in the Bryant neighborhood should head on down to the Bryant Community Center. Talk to anyone there. Members of my team are also working from the Bryant Community Center. And we can sign you up on that waitlist. So, as soon as we find out if we're successful, we just start running.
David Fair: And based on the averages, it's estimated that each residents will save about $300 on energy costs?
Missy Stults: Potentially more. But that's our initial kind of general estimate based on what we're learning.
David Fair: That's not bad. That can make a difference when you're living hand-to-mouth. As we look at the grant process, you sound very confident. When might you get final word that it's been approved and the money is headed your way?
Missy Stults: Unfortunately, we are in the black box of federal government decision-making. So who knows? Hopefully, we'll know by the end of the summer. And I think what you hear in terms of confidence is maybe we won't win this one. But we have such a strong team. Our letters of support from our IBEW 252, you know, local union colleagues, from the trades, from business, from the schools, it just warms my heart that we are going to do this work, and we will find a path forward. So, hopefully, those dollars flow at the end of this year. But if not, this team is determined. This work will happen. We just have to find the right way to make it manifest.
David Fair: And where are you going to look to build while you await a final decision, so that if in fact it does not come through, you're still prepared to in some manner move forward?
Missy Stults: Yes. We actually already have some grant funding that we wanted to do the preliminary work, the engagement, the outreach, and collecting some of the fundamental data. And we...from the McKnight Foundation and we also got a small grant from the US EPA. And that continues for the next few months. So, we're going to keep being on the ground. We're also talking to others in the Department of Energy. There's a lot of federal grant dollars that are starting to come out from the infrastructure bill. We are monitoring all of those very, very closely. And if the community were to pass the Community Climate Action millage, which will be on the ballot in November, there is a lot of money that we put into that millage to actually offer buy down for the kinds of appliances and equipment that we're talking about here--not just for Bryant, but for anyone in the community. So, that's another tool that we might have in our toolbox to help us do this work.
David Fair: Well, a lot of reason for cautious optimism and moving forward, don't you think?
Missy Stults: Well, one must.
David Fair: There is no other way forward, is there?
Missy Stults: Well, we have to figure it out.
David Fair: Thank you so much for the time today. I do appreciate it, and I hope you'll stay in touch and keep us posted on progress.
Missy Stults: Anytime. Thank you for everything you do, David.
David Fair: That is Missy Stults, Ann Arbor sustainability and innovations manager. She's been our guest on Issues of the Environment. And for more on today's topic, go to WEMU dot org. This weekly feature is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, and you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, in this year's 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD1 Ypsilanti.
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