Bringing energy efficiency to rental housing

Name: Terra Sampson

Title: Energy Services Project Manager

City: Fort Collins, Colo.

Promoting energy efficiency in rental housing has always been tough. Landlords generally don’t pay the energy bills — tenants do — so there’s little incentive to invest in insulation or efficient heating and cooling systems. Terra Sampson leads a team in Fort Collins that’s trying to change that by implementing an idea that won the city $1 million in the 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge.

The key, she’s finding, is collaboration. Local government can’t do it alone — even in a city like Fort Collins, which runs its own utility services. So Sampson is working closely with landlords, home contractors, energy advisors, banks, a loan administrator, and several city agencies to tackle the problem. The result is a program that makes it easy for landlords to finance energy-efficiency upgrades with a low-interest loan they can pay back on their water or sewer bills. More than 70 loans have been made, and the pace is picking up after a pandemic pause in the spring. Sampson said this is an example of how the city can serve as a “platform” to leverage community resources to get residents financing that’s “better than what they could get just by walking into a bank on their own.”

Data is also critical to the Fort Collins program. Sampson and her team are collaborating with researchers at Colorado State University to study the health and wellness benefits tenants get when their landlords make energy-efficiency upgrades. The researchers will be monitoring before-and-after air pollution levels in 80 homes to determine the impact.

This project is personal for Sampson, who has lived in a number of rental apartments in Fort Collins and seen the difference this kind of work can make. “I’ve lived in some terrible rentals,” she said. “And I’ve lived in a rental that had some energy upgrades, where the landlord really cared and wanted us to have a comfortable, healthy, energy-efficient place to live. It was really meaningful. So I’m excited to get more rental property owners involved and provide more renters in Fort Collins with great places to live.”

Pro tip: “Don’t be scared to admit when you don’t know an answer and need advice from someone on your team or others in your organization who know it better. We all want each other to succeed.”

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program.

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