My turn: CA can lead on climate change and housing equity

By Stephanie Wang, Special to CALmatters

Californians are reeling this summer. Climate change has never been so obvious, the largest wildfire in California history smolders in Mendocino County, and soaring housing costs are squeezing families that are already pushed to their limit. In the final days of the legislative session, one bill could help spur affordable housing while addressing climate change.

Buildings, including homes, are large sources of pollution, second only to transportation. But addressing this pollution seems nearly impossible when housing is wildly unaffordable.

In May, the California Energy Commission created a groundbreaking solar mandate, ensuring all new houses will cut emissions by installing solar panels starting in 2020.

That will save households money on monthly utility bills and long-term health costs. But in an era of runaway housing costs, anything that contributes to the upfront cost of affordable homes is a challenge.

To address this concern, the Energy Commission provided flexibility for multifamily developments looking to meet the new clean energy standard. If solar panels don’t work for a given development, homebuilders can install different, equally effective, emissions-cutting options like solar water heating or energy storage.

But given the affordable housing shortage, Californians need more assurance that low-emission homes will not be out of reach for California’s low-income community members.

That’s where Senate Bill 1477 comes in.

The legislation by Sen. Henry Stern, a Democrat from Canoga Park, offers a roadmap for California to lead on climate action and housing equity.

It would require the California Public Utilities Commission to allocate up to $50 million a year from cap-and-trade revenue to support two initiatives: funding to help spur the market for clean water and space heating equipment and incentives to deploy clean technologies to achieve deep emissions reductions in residential buildings.

The bill would jumpstart the market for low- and zero-emission water and space heating technology by working with manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to bring to market products that curb climate change and improve health and affordability.

Thirty percent of the incentives for new homes would be earmarked for low-income housing to support the development of much-needed affordable housing and ensure that families struggling under the burden of the housing crisis would not miss out on new technologies that lower monthly costs and cut air pollution.

Further, the bill would provide affordable housing developers with the flexibility to find creative and low-cost ways to reduce emissions and gain the market experience needed to make technologies like battery storage a part of common practice.

All Californians deserve to live in safe, healthy homes that they can afford. SB 1477 will help deliver the next generation of clean, low-emission homes that lower energy costs and improve public health and indoor air quality, all while reducing building emissions. It’s through measures like this that we will create livable, affordable and healthy cities fit for the 21st century.


Stephanie Wang is policy director for the California Housing Partnership Corporation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to helping nonprofit and government housing agencies create and preserve housing affordable to lower-income households, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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