The Opportunity Created by Housing Retrofits

France Housing International

  St. Sauveur      We found ourselves in the rolling hills of the French countryside almost an hour’s drive from Lyon before we headed again for the Alliance’s headquarters in Grenoble.  Hardy, multi-course country meals on the farm table were enjoyed as rain and fog drifted outside and yellowed leaves fell on the road to break up the gray day.  Being organizers, we found time to talk about the opportunity for lower-income and working families that some different ways of thinking about housing rehabilitation might offer.  Posing rehab within the traditional emphasis of poverty programs on weatherization programs and the new greening, climate concerns embedded in the concept of retrofits might be a game-changer if approached from all angles.

The head organizer of ACORN’s affiliate in Lyon, being new to the work, had approached the campaign to rehab housing differently when they began.  He reached out for housing construction companies that actually did the work and bid on the contracts to find out what it really cost and how it might be expanded.  Getting some cooperation from some of the companies was solid research on one level, but also allowed the membership actions and campaigns at the municipal and district level to claim some new credibility and allies in the fight helping legitimize the organization’s demands, while also bringing them critical support.  The results have meant winning commitments from several communities in Lyon and Villeurbanne on an accelerated program of retrofits for housing complexes.

It seemed to me that we might have a different twist on a campaign model that now had a proven record of winning, so we discussed how we could scale this effort in France and in other European and North American communities.  One way, following the lead of Lyon, might be to create a committee or alliance with the rehab industry before launching the campaign in order to create common cause and to construct a bulwark against the tendency for most housing money to go to new construction and development, which we see in the USA too often in projects funded by community development block grant money and enterprise districts.  Assignments were doled out.  We’ll get to work on this!

In the United States, the original Biden American Jobs Plan included $213 billion to “preserve, retrofit or create” more than two million homes and commercial buildings.  In my reading that piece seems not to have survived in the final passage of the first bill, but more research needs to be done.  There is a smaller amount of $159 billion in the pending infrastructure bill now slated for a vote soon that lumps retrofits in with other housing issues, but is a start.  The announcement that New Orleans former Mayor Mitch Landrieu is being appointed as the overseer of the infrastructure bill that is now law, might also open some ears – and doors – to discuss rehab and retrofit as a central theme.  An article in the Washington Post made the case, saying…

… retrofitted homes could be the ticket to homeownership. And for those who own a home but have a tight budget, the funds could open the way for improvements that would make them more energy-efficient, saving money in the long term and becoming more climate-friendly in the process.