Last December, Gainesville For All announced a new partnership with building construction and energy experts from the University of Florida to help find solutions to the disproportionate burden of high energy costs for low-income residents, primarily from east side of Gainesville. Four months later, we are pleased to report that progress has been made.
Meetings between our team and doctoral students led by Robert J. Ries, professor at ME Rinker Sr. School of Construction Management, were held monthly to discuss strategies. Over the past few weeks, we have decided to apply for a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation that would allow us to plan a pilot project designed to reduce energy costs for financially challenged east side residents.
It has been well documented that residents of East Gainesville, particularly low-income African Americans who live in less energy-efficient housing than most other consumers in the community, spend a greater share of their household income on utility and energy costs – nearly 40%, or 34.8% above the EU average.
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A study commissioned by Friendship Sevenmade up of leading local institutions such as city and county governments as well as UF and Santa Fe College, found in 2018 that many easterners are paying up to $200 a month for utilities, while the average Gainesville regional utility bill is $119.76.
Admittedly, GNV4ALL had no experts at its disposal, but our non-scientific investigation conducted in 2018 and again last fall should be taken for more than a grain of salt. Both times, we found that utility costs were ranked as the #1 challenge faced by apartment dwellers and single-family home dwellers we surveyed in the 32609 ZIP code around Metcalfe and Rawlings Elementary Schools.
So what are some of the solutions that our partnership will pursue? Of course, we will delve into the effectiveness of energy education programs. After all, they’ve been around since the 1970s, when Jimmy Carter was president and America faced its first energy crisis.
Some of you may even remember when the government encouraged consumers to save energy by flushing less and avoiding decorating their homes and Christmas trees with Christmas lights. Obviously, none of these well-meaning conservation efforts lasted long if you look at America’s current energy consumption and love affair with gas guzzlers like mine.
Either way, we’ll look at what worked, even on a small scale, and see if it might be worth replicating on a larger scale. We’ll also be sure to look at new strategies as well as old ones with a new twist. Solar power has huge potential benefits, especially in a sun-friendly state like Florida.
Meanwhile, many welcome activities are being launched by both the city and county to address equity issues related to high utility costs. As millions of federal taxpayer dollars are returned to local and state governments as part of COVID relief funding, lawmakers and local policymakers are wisely choosing to invest in remedies to longstanding disparities that exist between haves and have-nots.
The city, for example, is adding more than $1 million to GRU Low-Income Energy Efficiency Programwhich provides home improvements that can help reduce electricity bills and reduce energy consumption.
And in the county, proposals from nonprofit organizations are being accepted through early May for projects under a $3 million grant for energy efficiency and affordable housing.
All of these efforts will help make this community more equitable and livable.
James F. Lawrence is Executive Director of GNV4ALL. Send your requests to [email protected].
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