BUILD: A Community-Based Solution to Energy Poverty & Unemployment in Low-Income Neighbourhoods

About one million Canadian households spend more than 10% of their income on energy costs. To resolve a problem of this scale takes big money, but consider the payback. The total annual utility bill for the lowest income quintile (about $4 billion) were reduced by 30% through energy and water efficiency measures, more than $10 billion over the next decade. If the un- or underemployed residents of those very neighbourhoods were employed in the retrofitting under the guidance of journeymen carpenters, the long-term benefits begin to edge towards the exponential.

This is what BUILD is doing in Winnipeg's inner city. Through partnerships with the Government of Manitoba, Manitoba Housing, and Manitoba Hydro, this nonprofit contractor has trained over 80 inner-city residents to upgrade insulation, toilets, and showerheads in 2,500 low-income dwellings. These measures will reduce the utility bills of those households by over $7 million over the next decade.

Supported by a national plan, multi-sectoral partnerships like BUILD's could turn Energy Poverty into a huge opportunity for low-income households and neighbourhoods across Canada. Public housing officials will like lower utility bills, improved the housing stock, and tenants moving from welfare to work. Provincial regulatory boards may find it reduces the public's energy bills better than normal incentive programs. When it comes to reducing the arrears of low-income customers, utility companies may prefer this strategy to outright disconnection. It's time the federal Conservatives displayed some of leadership and common sense that some provinces are already bringing to the plate.

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