How working in communities can help vulnerable Vermonters save energy and money
Every year Efficiency Vermont focuses our outreach on a group of communities. We bring together service providers and community groups to expand access to energy saving solutions. The community approach helps us connect with Vermonters, build on local infrastructure, and spread the word. For the last several years, we have focused on underserved communities with a high energy burden. This is part of our increased efforts to ground our work in diversity, equity, and inclusion and ensure that Efficiency Vermont is working in service of all Vermonters.
Vermont has one of the highest home ownership racial gaps in the country. That means the majority of BIPOC Vermonters are renters. Renters are well recognized as the most underserved by our programs. This isn’t a problem that’s unique to Vermont. Across the country, efficiency service providers struggle to help renters save. Landlords might be reluctant to take on a big efficiency investment in their property. The renter doesn’t want to or might not be able to invest in a property they don’t own. If we want to serve all Vermonters, we must do better in reaching renters.
We don’t have all of the answers, but we believe that the best way to bring equity to energy efficiency programs is through a community-based approach. By focusing outreach on communities with higher populations of renters, lower-income, and BIPOC residents, we can gain a deeper understanding of their needs and how we can better support them in reducing their energy burden.
To achieve these goals, we worked with local and statewide partners to select Winooski and Brattleboro for focused, community-based efforts in 2022-3.
Winooski is the most diverse community in the state, with 31 languages spoken in schools. It is a designated refugee resettlement community and 60% of Winooski’s housing stock is rented. It also has a high housing burden, with 19% of households paying more than 50% of their income towards housing (higher than the state average of 15%). And Winooski has strong social infrastructure. There are many local partners we hope to collaborate with, to spread the word and connect with community members.
Brattleboro has similarly strong infrastructure. The downtown is already focused on revitalization. There is an active energy committee. The energy committee works closely with Brattleboro's Sustainability Coordinator, Stephen Dotson. Brattleboro is also home to the Elnu, an Abenaki tribe. The Multicultural Community Center helps welcome new American families as the largest refugee center in the state. The renter population is also quite high, estimated to be over 50%. The largest mobile home park in the state is in Brattleboro. And housing costs make up more than 50% of income for 22% of households.
We will be launching our efforts in Brattleboro and Winooski in the next month with offers for non-profits, homeowners, and the municipality. In addition we plan to work with community members to understand their needs and design enhanced offers for:
- Property Owners
- Mobile home residents
- Minority- and women-owned businesses
If you have ideas on how Efficiency Vermont could serve these communities we would love to connect. Please reach out Efficiency Vermont’s Community Engagement Lead Michelle McCutcheon-Schour.
If you live in Brattleboro or Winooski, please look for Efficiency Vermont staff at community events and around town to learn more.