For over 33 years, Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity has helped marginalized, low-income families achieve strength, stability, and self-reliance through affordable homeownership. In that time, we’ve built 162 homes in Weld County as a way to give a hand up, not a handout, to those in need.
In Weld County, 22% of families are renter households and are extremely low income. Having a secure, long-term place to call home has significant positive impacts on public health outcomes and gives families a stable foundation for the future. Unfortunately, buying a home continues to be out of reach for many families, and it’s not just the cost of the monthly mortgage.
Every dollar counts for families who are working to achieve their dreams of home ownership. Habitat homes are affordable options because housing and related expenses, such as utilities, are not allowed to exceed 30% of a household’s income. Utility costs can be a real burden for new homeowners, and studies show that low-income families can spend up to four times more on energy bills than well-off families. That’s why we believe we need to protect access to energy options for low-income families.
Last Friday, we broke ground on our first zero-net energy demonstration home — meaning the home produces as much energy as it consumes within a year. This energy-efficient, low-carbon home will be powered by an innovative combination of natural gas and renewable energy and helps lower emissions and utility bills for low-income families. This is the type of all-of-the-above energy strategy we should be embracing to keep costs affordable for homeowners, while keeping the state on track to meet climate goals.
There has been talk of Colorado communities and homeowners considering electrification as a possible solution to combat climate change. But more than 1.8 million households throughout the state already depend on cost-friendly natural gas to help heat their homes and power appliances — including many of the homes we have helped build and hope to continue to build in the future. We all want to work together to create a clean and environmentally sustainable energy future, but we can’t do it at the expense of low-income families.
Electrification, for example, can add a significant burden. An all-electric home costs Coloradans $1,083 more annually than an average natural gas home. For some of the families we serve, that is an entire month’s pay. Eliminating natural gas as an option for new builds increases the overall homeownership costs for low-income families and could price the families we work with out of a home.
In addition, a recent study by GTI shows that Colorado consumers could see a 139% increase in annual energy costs when transitioning to an electric heat pump from an efficient natural gas system. That’s not a cost our families are equipped to shoulder.
Homeowners need access to reliable, affordable and safe energy. New advances in technology and efficiency programs in the natural gas industry allow families to save energy and reduce costs and emissions.
Colorado leaders must work together to find a balance between meeting energy goals and ensuring that families already suffering from the effects of COVID-19 aren’t getting stuck with the bill. Limiting energy sources to one expensive option does just that. We must protect clean-energy options for new homeowners and families in order to maintain progress on our energy goals, without sacrificing energy equity.
Cheri Witt Brown is executive director of Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity.