Communities, businesses and households cannot survive without electricity, heating and water. America’s most vulnerable families, those in supportive housing — public housing, non-profit supportive housing or subsidized market-rate housing — are no different from anyone else when it comes to needing electricity and water to survive.
Yet, for these households, especially in climates were heating and cooling are vital to health, utility costs are a significantly larger portion of total household income. Referred to as the ‘heat or eat dilemma,’ keeping the heat on, the lights on and the water running are sometimes impossible while also paying for food or rent.
These economics also challenge cities and communities more broadly. Rising utility costs threaten long-term housing affordability and quality. “Left unchecked, rising energy costs can compromise the quality and long-term affordability of rental homes for low-income [residents] and can even lead to health risks for these families,” Maria Stamas, Western Director of Energy Affordability with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Andrew McAllister, a California Energy Commissioner, said in Utility Dive last month.
In an effort to address this problem, many energy efficiency programs target low-income housing. Be it via mortgage compliance requirements from HUD, funders of LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credit) programs or state utility regulators, there are volumes of requirements for developers, property managers and utilities that all signal one thing: reduce energy consumption in low-income housing.
Often, programs to address this issue show up in the form of incentives for significant property improvements such as weatherization (insulation, sealing, windows and doors) and solar. Many states require that solar and efficiency upgrade incentives for building owners also benefit these households.
Energy efficiency in multifamily buildings is important because it lowers the percentage of income residents must spend on necessities like heat and water. “Making multifamily residential properties more energy efficient is a key strategy for reducing the disproportionate energy cost burden facing families on limited incomes,” begins a new report from Energy Efficiency for All.
The people who live in low-income and supportive households also want to see change. People in these living situations care more about their utility bills and pay more attention to them than almost any other demographic because they comprise a larger percentage of monthly expenses. Yet, this population lacks the means to invest in efficiency improvements themselves. That is why funders of efficiency programs or regulators that require focus on low-income housing.
But is weatherization and solar the only answer? What about behaviors that create efficiencies? What information could help tenants in low-income housing play a more active role in efficiency and financial management? The answer is simple: information and data.
How does Brilliency address the low-income housing market? Its digital platform allows cities, utilities, housing authorities and tenants to connect around electric, gas and water usage in ways never before possible. Brilliency’s tools add convenience and behavioral energy efficiency components that make it easier for tenants to see what’s happening, understand what to do about it, and see what effect changes are having. For a low-income household, this information can help make ends meet. For the cities, utilities and housing authority, Brilliency’s proprietary customer engagement platform allows administrative users to easily understand and connect with their customers to create just that: efficiency.
The first step in understanding how to increase customers’ efficiency is connecting with them where they are: on smart phones. Brilliency’s mobile app is the first of its kind to connect all of these parties together around the common goal of efficiency.
The Importance of Smartphone Access for Affordable Housing Efficiency
More and more people with low incomes access the internet by smartphone only. Pew Research found that 20% of low-income Americans access the internet by smartphone only, and the rate had nearly doubled in three years. The same year Pew Research also found that a majority of low-income Americans now have smartphones. Brilliency's mobile app allows people to understand and control their utility bills. (Actually you can [[[try a beta of our app]]] right now.)
At Brilliency, we believe it is the right thing to do. By providing lower income households with access to their usage information, we help households to take ownership of their utility use by empowering them to save money.