Cheryl Roberts is proud of the day last April when her organization celebrated the installation of solar panels on homeowner Franteece Jackson’s Portland house. The executive director of the African American Alliance for Home Ownership says she believes Jackson is the first Black woman homeowner in the state to complete such a project.
But Roberts was just as excited about the way her organization was able to pull together resources and, also using Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF) money, help a new homeowner save the beloved house that had been willed to her by her grandmother.
The house on Roselawn Street was likely to be a casualty of deferred maintenance – repairs and upgrades long put off due to homeowners’ lack of income and resources. When AAAH stepped in, they found the entire home needed new pipes or the owner was likely to lose it to flooding. AAAH was able to help in part through a partnership with the Portland Water Bureau, called the Water Leak Program.
“She was so excited that we pulled all types of resources together which totalled in the range of $30,000,” Roberts told The Skanner. “Now she has a good, safe home, and it’s energy efficient.
"And we helped save the home and that generational wealth.”
It was the first such case funded through the voter-approved PCEF, which itself is funded by a tax on commercial businesses with sales of $500,000 or more within Portland, or sales of $1 billion or more nationally. In its inaugural round this year, PCEF awarded $8.6 million to 45 grants. AAAH received about $569,000 for its Power to the People program, which includes a 3:1 funding match for “deep energy retrofits” and residential rooftop solar installation.
Other Clean Energy Fund projects include an initiative under the city's Heat Response Program to install 15,000 portable cooling units to vulnerable residents.
“It was all wonderful, and then we got to see ‘ok, where’s the missing pieces? What about the city of Portland? What are your guys’ resources? How can we tap into more than just one – do you all know what each other is doing?’” Roberts said. “So it spurred the other city bureaus talking amongst one another, and it was because we asked, how can we connect, instead of running around from this bureau to that bureau? We wanted to create this chain reaction, so (homeowners) find out if you can also qualify for one thing, you can also qualify for this and this. And it wasn’t just for us – what about those homeowners who aren’t connected with us? Good things came out of that project.”
She added, “We were figuring out ways that they could be more streamlined to address the needs of African Americans. The vision is the same right now with everyone, it’s pretty much equity and inclusion, so it’s like, how do you really make that happen?”
AAAH is a nonprofit that provides services for first-time homebuyers, as well as homeowners at risk of foreclosure. The organization also provides free estate planning and home retention counseling.
“We don’t have funds to help everyone with a ticket price of $12,000, but we can help you with a matched savings program,” Roberts said. “We’re combining these resources, stacking them together to make it possible. All homeowners have to do is save their money and we help with the process, project management, making sure we go step by step for what they need.”
And in implementing new programs like Clean Energy, the organization has discovered what a prevalent issue deferred maintenance is.
“We offer free energy assessments,” Roberts said, “and so in that, and the Water Leak program, we find we open up a can of worms. When you talk to a homeowner in need, they may come to you for a water leak, but I always ask them what other issues they’re concerned about. And sure enough there’s always more.”
Roberts estimates that of the homes they’ve served, only about 10% would be ready for the addition of solar upgrades.
“Deferred maintenance has become a priority for us because again, there’s no sense putting solar on a home that has what I call leaks – that doesn’t have insulation, that has bad windows. It’s just defeating your purpose. So we have to take care of that first. I know we did not think it was so prevalent, but we had to go back to PCEF and say hey, we’re not going to make our goal (for the solar program) this year.”
She added, “When you talk about energy efficiency, it’s more than putting in a water heater, it’s more than putting on solar.”
Using PCEF funds to support clean energy, the organization has been able to upgrade homes and move toward greater energy efficiency.
“Some people are still working with oil furnaces,” Roberts said. “We know we’ve got to get rid of that. It’s not only polluting the air, polluting yourself, polluting the home, but it’s also expensive to maintain. We’ve been able to install energy efficient replacements. We don’t want to say you have to then get electric or solar heat, if you want the comfort of your gas heater. We’ll gladly help you, but we’re going to help you install an efficient one.”
For more information, visit aaah.org.