Buildings are essential spaces where we work, live, and play, so it’s critical they support our health, wealth, and communities; but for too long residents of under-resourced communities have been excluded from efforts to improve the built environment. IMT is charting a new direction by collaborating with policymakers and local stakeholders across the country to develop robust building performance standards (BPS) that address not just energy use but also community priorities. Our goal is to help craft BPS policies that combat displacement and increase housing affordability while also improving health and resilience. Most importantly, these policies should prioritize the needs and challenges of the communities that have been historically excluded from the process and disproportionately harmed by environmental racism. In an effort to foster this equitable policy development, IMT has committed to collaborating with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that work exclusively with frontline communities in jurisdictions where BPS are being co-developed.
IMT’s community engagement work aims to:
- Transform the violence inherent in an overly technical process.
- Balance uneven power dynamics that exist between communities and the decision makers in the energy and climate sector.
- Close the gap in climate vulnerability by encouraging direct participation of vulnerable communities.
In spring of 2021, the City of Orlando approached IMT for assistance in developing a BPS policy. IMT agreed to provide technical support so long as policy development began with and was driven by the frontline communities of Orlando. The team attended an Orlando community meeting to share the RFP for the BPS community engagement process. IMT selected Poder Latinx to explore how a BPS policy could be leveraged to address the priorities of the Latinx community in Orlando. The team at Poder has summarized their experience below, and we encourage readers to view the full report of their findings “An Overview Of Building Performance Standards And Community-Oriented Work” which is available in Spanish and English.
Community Perspective: Poder Latinx’s Approach to Engagement
Poder Latinx is a CBO that focuses on civic engagement of the Latinx community and organizing around economic, immigrant, and climate justice. Opportunities are at the core of our community engagement programs and ultimately our goal is to ensure more Latinxs are finding the issue that ignites them to become agents of long-term change.
The reality we face when engaging community members with new topics on non-predominant or non-mainstream topics, is that we must first invest in dismantling barriers that prevent community members from seeing themselves as leaders and carriers of solutions.
For our collaboration with IMT and the City of Orlando, we used the following tactics:
- We hosted bi-weekly meetings over 3.5 months where we spoke to community members about their experiences with energy and low-income housing, and presented BPS as a possible solution. Each meeting was followed by a discussion on the possible shortcomings, benefits, and unintended consequences of BPS.
- As an extension of our work around energy efficiency, we hosted a Community Roundtable. At this roundtable, our goal was to gather stories, experiences, and recommendations from community members around energy burden, energy efficiency, and BPS. We hosted this roundtable with these guiding principles in mind:
- We need new faces: increase participation of working-class and low-income community members to be able to attend;
- Let the community lead: create safe space for community members to share what they think are the real solutions to problems around energy efficiency or share how they envision solutions;
- Accessibility means participation: provide a space that did not exclude any community member from participating. All of the materials presented were available both in English and in Spanish, with moderators that spoke both languages.
Creating opportunities starts with fostering a deeper understanding of the topics at hand and showing our community how their ideas for solutions can become a reality and contribute to change.
Getting the Word Out
“We must first invest in dismantling barriers that prevent community members from seeing themselves as leaders and carriers of solutions.”
As an organization, we focus on increasing a continuous cycle of civic engagement in the Latinx community. Therefore, for this project, we primarily engaged working, Latinx families, particularly those within energy-burdened neighborhoods. Given the focus on BPS, we were also highly interested in getting the input from individuals living in multi-family buildings. To reach our community, we led an integrated and inclusive program focused on reaching communities in their language and in the correct locations with the most accessible tools for leading a program of this kind during a pandemic. Our program was focused in Orlando, Florida – specifically area codes 32822 and 32808. We used Greenlink Equity Map (GEM) to identify and reach out to the most energy-burdened zip codes and neighborhoods. The GEM tool helped us visualize equity-related issues and how burdens are spread across communities.
We canvassed in Latinx neighborhoods with high energy burdens, reaching out through efforts like phone banking, sending 10,000 text messages, dropping flyers at local businesses, and targeted social media outreach with the identified neighborhoods. Representatives from our team attended public community events and town halls. Additionally, we created a toolkit that included talking points and graphics to share with a variety of community-based organizations on how to engage with the BPS development, including joining the Community Roundtable. We also partnered with other local organizations who do environmental justice work including NAACP’s Orange County Branch, Sierra Club’s Central Florida Group, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Moms Clean Air Force, and Chispa Florida. Regardless of the conversations presented or people’s reactions, we intentionally centered further engagement in this program for participants who wanted to learn more about how to take action regarding energy burden, energy efficiency, and BPS.
Report and Presentation to the Mayor
For the work done during this program, we had the opportunity to engage the Mayor of the City of Orlando, and various city offices. At the end of the program, we also shared our findings (depicted below) and recommendations.
Throughout our community engagement phase, we experienced several challenges. At the beginning of the year, during the pandemic, we struggled to engage people when we couldn’t campaign on the streets. When we began this process, we were still unsure of how safe it was to return to in-person organizing, and we did our best to engage our community in the way we were able to. We phone-banked, text-banked, and held virtual community meetings.
It was difficult to engage new members of our community. Our community members face several obstacles to participation, including family and work obligations, unfamiliarity with the issue, language barriers, and simply not wanting to spend the little free time they have at a meeting. Engaging the community on environmental issues is often a challenge. This difficulty increases when speaking about a technical and nuanced topic, such as BPS. When we first began our work around BPS, we quickly realized that we had to frame our conversations around the direct impacts on the community.
- Ensure a BPS is created with equity as the main priority. From the testimonials of the community members we spoke to, we know that a BPS must have equity as the main priority. Tenant protection is non-negotiable for a BPS. We urge the city to guarantee that:
- tenants will not be displaced
- rent will not be raised
- buildings where low-income people and people of color live do not get left behind
- a plan to prevent gentrification is implemented
- BPS benefits will apply to multifamily buildings under 50,000 sq ft. In communities with high rates of energy burdened households, the majority of multifamily buildings are on average under 50,000 sq ft.
- Create a BPS focused tenant/advocacy department. This would ensure landlords are held accountable while guaranteeing tenants are protected from retaliation. This department will also see to that rent is not increased for tenants and that tenants are not displaced because of a BPS. This department should also provide education to community members on the purpose of BPS, and their rights as tenants.
- Make reducing energy burden a main goal. The City of Orlando must have reducing energy burden as a main goal in their Building Performance Standards. This would ensure that community members, and not just building owners, would benefit from lower energy costs.
- Listen before taking action. Ultimately, it is community members who are most affected by decisions made by elected officials and other public and private institutions. Meaningful community engagement must continue to happen as the City begins developing their Building Performance Standards. For it to be meaningful, engagement must be accessible, transparent and considered in making final decisions. The City can accomplish better community engagement practices by reducing obstacles to participation such as language barriers, time constraints, location inaccessibility, and lack of (plain language/non-technical) information.
- Invest money into community engagement and education. Meaningful community involvement includes:
- In-person outreach
- Door-to-door outreach
- Phone calls to energy-burdened households
- Marketing campaigns in energy-burdened neighborhoods
- Invest in and create incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency led by the community. In recognition that Building Performance Standards require significant investments in buildings, and that banking, financing, and incentives have been built in a system that disadvantages communities of color, the creation of Community Benefit Funds which can address community-identified priorities, such as community buildings and affordable housing.
Collaboration with IMT
Poder Latinx was inspired to work with IMT in order to strengthen the organization’s relationship with the City of Orlando and create a mutual understanding between the city and its Latinx constituents. Through this project we were able to allot time and resources toward building a bridge between the city and the Latinx community to inform the community on resources and give feedback to the city on how different resources were received by the community. We also valued IMT’s community driven approach where our staff had a supporting partner and a voice in the decision-making process of this work.
The communication and resources that we received from IMT were incredible and made this partnership one of the most inclusive programs we have experienced to date when introducing a new topic to our community. This program launched late into the pandemic, which created some challenges with timelines for the work as COVID cases arose but we always felt as though we could go to our partners at IMT with questions and receive quality feedback on the timelines presented and any programmatic changes. Poder Latinx is interested in continuing our partnership with IMT but also in maintaining the collaborative efforts we created in Orlando with our community and other partners. Our programs are year-round and with the institutional knowledge we have built throughout this partnership, we are poised to successfully continue forging the bridge between the City of Orlando and the Latinx community regarding energy burdens, energy efficiency, and BPS.