This article was originally published in the November/December 1996 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online November/December 1996



Landlords Invest 
in Rental Partnership

Technical supervisor John Quimby discusses a new duct run with Tom Andrews. The Kansas City program installs everything from air sealing to new furnaces, requiring careful planning for each job.

Advocates of energy efficiency all lament the split incentive that discourages conservation investments in rental housing. Owners don't directly enjoy the savings or comfort, and transient tenants don't know if they'll be around long enough to collect the return on investment. Meanwhile, wasted dollars and heat continue to fly out the windows. In low-income multifamily housing, high tenant turnover, poor building maintenance, and an all-around lack of cash put efficiency investments even lower on most people's priority lists.

The Kansas City Department of Housing and Community Development (KCDHCD) in Missouri has found a way past this standoff. KCDHCD combines federal and state grants with a modest landlord investment to weatherize private multifamily rentals for low-income tenants. The Home Weatherization Rental Partnership Program began with a pilot program in which landlords contributed only 10% of the costs of installed conservation measures. It is now an ongoing program weatherizing 50 to 100 units per year, and the owner contribution has risen to a still-low 25%.

Administrators expect to increase the landlord contribution again, now that landlords understand the value of the program's services.

In addition to the owner's contribution, the program gets funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Missouri's Department of Natural Resources. KCDHCD's contract with the landlord prohibits raising rents specifically to recover the owner's cost of participation.

The 1992 pilot involved 25 units in several 6-unit buildings owned by a single landlord. The average per-unit cost for all work in the pilot was $1,475. Of this, nearly $1,000 was for air sealing, about $275 for insulation, and about $200 for furnace analysis and repairs. A weather-adjusted comparison of gas bills for the pilot units found that the weatherization saved an average 36% on heating-season gas, worth $88 per apartment at local prices. Blower door tests showed average leakage at 50 Pascals (Pa) dropped by 47%.

Despite the modest savings, program administrator Robert T. Jackson calls the pilot program a resounding success. In addition to energy savings, he points out that on more than one third of the furnaces, contractors found and repaired potentially dangerous leaks of natural gas or combustion products.

KCDHCD recruits landlords by mailing four-page program descriptions and application forms to all multifamily property owners in the city. The tenants must complete the applications, usually at the request of the owner. The mailings result in one or two requests from landlords per week.

If the tenants qualify for DOE low-income weatherization funds, the city provides a free estimate of how much work they believe they'll need to do. In general, the program focuses most on insulation, because it tends to lower fuel bills most dramatically. More than 80% of landlords decide to get the work done. The city government then hires contractors to perform the work.

If some, but not all, of the tenants in a building qualify, the program tries to find funds to work on the whole building-either the funds allocated for the low-income tenants are spread out and used for all tenants; landlords promise to move low-income tenants into vacant apartments, increasing the allocation; or landlords pay the entire cost of weatherizing nonqualifying apartments.

KCDHCD uses the National Energy Audit (NEAT) software, but it is limited in its usefulness for buildings with six or more units. They found EA-QUIP, developed by the State of New York, to be more useful, but have not yet put it into wide-scale use (see Computerized Energy Audits, HE May/June '94, p. 27).

Program administrators also learned that good communication among program managers, auditors, contractors, tenants, and owners helps to prevent conflicts on the job site. Getting the applications filled out properly requires cooperation between landlords and tenants, who are not always on the best of terms.

For more information on the program, call Robert T. Jackson or John Quimby at (816)274-2201.

- Richard Engel

Richard Engel is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, California.


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