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01/03/2017

Charleston public housing to get $4.6 million in energy-efficiency upgrades


Matthew Fortner - Meeting Street Manor, in a 2009 photograph.

 

Post and Courier
By David Slade
dslade@postandcourier.com
Updated Dec 29, 2016

The Charleston Housing Authority is launching a $4.6 million energy-efficiency project that's expected to pay for itself, at no cost to taxpayers.

It took more than two years to get federal officials to approve the plan, Housing Authority Director Don Cameron said, but the result will be improvements at just about every public housing apartment in the city of Charleston — roughly 1,400 units. And that should free up the authority's capital improvement funds for other things, such as painting buildings, he said.

The financing concept may sound familiar to homeowners who have upgraded home insulation or invested in solar panels, or to governments and businesses with energy performance contracts. The simplified math is, long-term savings from using less energy can more than pay for the cost of improvements.

With the Housing Authority, it's more complicated.

While a homeowner might get a loan for improvements by using their home as collateral, the authority can't borrow against publicly owned housing. And, while energy savings are expected to repay the costs, it's public housing tenants who pay the electric and gas bills, while the Housing Authority pays for water and sewer.

“We couldn’t have gone to Bank of America and said we wanted to borrow $4.6 million," Cameron said.

But Bank of America is providing the financing, he said, after studies of the project savings were modeled by consultants for both the authority and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and HUD approved the authority's borrowing plan.

The federal government — this is one of the parts where it gets complicated — will help by freezing the amount of federal funding the authority gets each year for utility allowances, about $1.7 million. That means the federal government will save money, because the utility money would otherwise typically increase, and the Housing Authority will save money as actual utility costs go down.

Tenants, who pay a third of their income for rent and utilities, could also see modest savings as utility costs are frozen.

Most of the energy-efficiency money will be spent at the largest housing projects on the Charleston peninsula; 264-unit Gadsden Green on the West Side, 216-unit Cooper River Courts on the East Side, and the nearby 201-unit Meeting Street Manor.

All but 16 of the 1,407 public housing units in the city will get improvements, ranging from simple water-saving faucet aerators to energy-efficient refrigerators and insulation work. The remaining 16 apartments were acquired in 2005 and previously upgraded, Cameron said.

Work is expected to begin in 2017. The general contractor, selected in 2016 after a bidding process, will be Howell & Howell of Johns Island.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 and follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

 


For more information CONTACT:

info@chacity.org

A message from our President/Chief Executive Officer:

The Housing Authority of the City of Charleston was born of action on December 18, 1934 by a vote of the Charleston City Council. However, the actual permission for such a "creation" came via statute in the South Carolina General Assembly in March of 1934.

We have come a long way in our society, our City and our personal relationships. Nevertheless, the need for Public housing still exists today. We have so much more to do before we can truly say, the job is done.

Donald J. Cameron
President/Chief Executive Officer
Housing Authority of the City of Charleston