Eleven low- to moderate-income homeowners are now making electricity from the sun, thanks to Solarize the Land Trust, a project piloted by Spark Northwest and Homestead Community Land Trust in King County, Washington.
For many families, solar can seem beyond reach, because of upfront costs, home prices or language barriers. To overcome these obstacles, Solarize the Land Trust brought together a unique team of solar experts, affordable homeownership providers, multicultural communicators and funders.
Over the summer of 2019, Spark Northwest and Homestead held workshops for Homestead’s homeowners to learn about solar, financing, and the Solarize opportunity. Homeowners could then participate in a group purchase to receive a discount on installing solar and apply for a grant to help pay for it. Ultimately, 84 people attended workshops, 22 applied for grants, and 11 installed solar.
Under Homestead’s Community Land Trust model, an income-qualified buyer pays for and owns the home, while the land is owned collectively through Homestead. The home appreciates at a formula rate to keep it affordable to future low-income homeowners.
The homeowners led a competitive process to select a local solar installer for the group purchase. The selected installer, Puget Sound Energy, offered a discount to homeowners who participated in the program. Even with the group purchase savings, the upfront costs of installing solar still posed a major barrier for many of Homestead’s homeowners, so four foundations funded grants to help with the cost: All Points North Foundation, the Ren Che Foundation, Tudor Foundation and Union Bank. These grants helped 10 homeowners, covering 65-100% of the system cost, depending on the homeowner’s site and preferences.
About 10% of Homestead homeowners have limited English proficiency, so partners turned to the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS) to help these homeowners navigate the program.
“The Community Land Trust opportunity quickly gained steam because working directly with homeowners was simple and rewarding for our staff,” explained Jose Chi, one of ECOSS’s multicultural outreach managers.
ECOSS called each homeowner to explain the program in their preferred language and invited them to a workshop, where ECOSS offered a simultaneous translation.
“Together we’ve made history,” said Kathleen Hosfeld, Homestead’s executive director at a gathering to celebrate the success of the program. “Going forward, housing must be both affordable and environmentally sustainable.”
News item from Puget Sound Solar