Chio Saeteurn is a Got Green Community Organizer and Maria Batayola is a long-time community activist, writer and principal owner of Jump Start, an organizational development firm.
The green movement wants us to save Mother Earth by riding bikes to work, planting trees, driving hybrid cars and eating organic foods that are often out of reach for low-income and people of color.
On Sept 24, the International Day of Action on Climate Change, low-income women of color from the Women in the Green Economy Project told a crowd of 120 people at the “Green Women, Healthy Voices” community event at South Lake High School what over 200 low-income women of color living in SE Seattle want. They want what is good for the environment, their families, and their pocketbooks: well-paying green jobs, green and healthy homes, access to fresh food, and reliable and affordable public transportation.
Women in the Green Economy Project is a part of Got Green, a grassroots organization working to ensure that renters living in market rate buildings benefit from the green and sustainable movement.
The issue of green and healthy homes quickly rose to prominence. Here’s the problem. The City of Seattle’s Community Power Works (CPW) received $20 million federal stimulus dollars from the Department of Energy to weatherize 2,000 single family homes in Central and SE Seattle through low-interest loans and incentives. The program does not prioritize low-income renters who represent a significant percentage of residents and allocated very little money to weatherize privately-owned apartment buildings.
Low- and moderate-income households need to be given priority because they spend 28 percent more in energy costs per square foot than higher-income household living in older inefficient buildings, according to the 2011 Greening America’s Distressed Housing report. More than two thirds (68 percent) of the 200 women surveyed live in households that earn less than $25,000 per year, and almost half (48 percent) of them live with five or more people in the household.
This spring, Got Green realized the inequity of CPW and dug deeper. They started visiting renters in Rainier Valley apartment buildings and learned their top concerns — namely mold — also included infestations and high utility bills. Molds grow in homes that are poorly insulated and ventilated. They have drafty windows, little or no insulation in the walls, and plumbing and roof leaks. Unfortunately, these conditions are not covered by the CPW Program.
The City got the weatherization grant because it focused on Central and SE Seattle neighborhoods with significant low-income and people of color populations. The facts show that Washington Athletic Club – where its membership tends to be white and of affluent backgrounds — has signed a $1 million contract with CPW to receive some of the rebates and incentives, 4 hospitals will receive $100,000 to pay for an energy assessment, and homeowners will receive a $305 auditing discount. A plan for multi-family property owners to receive an auditing discount benefiting a large number of families should also be developed.
The words of environmental justice icon Van Jones apply here: “There should be a moral principle there that says: ‘Let’s green the ghetto first.’ Let’s go to those communities where they have the least ability to pay for that retrofit and make sure they get that help, make sure they get that support.”
The City has a laudable Race and Social Justice Initiative and should review CPW’s strategies to ensure equity. What can we as community folks do? Get behind Got Green’s recommendations to have CPW: 1) increase funds for weatherization of privately owned apartments; 2) protect apartment dwellers from post weatherization rental hikes; and 3) find funds to deal with pre-weatherization repairs for dilapidated buildings so more can qualify for CPW participation. Got Green is organizing to identify apartment buildings in SE Seattle by talking to tenants and property owners for the city to begin developing a plan that will benefit renters most in need of improved living conditions and lower utility bills.
Volunteers, renters, and property owners can get involved with the Energy, Efficiency, and Equity (Triple E) campaign by contacting Chio Saeteurn, community organizer at (206) 290-5136 or by e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more go to: www.gotgreen.org.