Category Archives: Affordable Housing

Affordable Housing Energy

We have Data on Apartment Building Efficiency in Minnesota

EnergyScoreCards Minnesota logo

For four years, benchmarking multifamily buildings in Minnesota was a big part of my work. At long last, the final report from that project is public.  (A summary of findings is here.)

Benchmarking takes the raw data of how much energy and water a building uses, and normalizes it by building size (and more), so that you can get apples-to-apples comparisons of how buildings perform.

The big take-aways include:

  • master-metered buildings saved energy and water!
  • benchmarking multifamily buildings at scale is possible (we really weren’t sure when we started)
  • hands-on support, delivered by a consistent account manager, made the benchmarking valuable to participants
  • owners used it for much more than just saving energy and water.

The team delivering the benchmarking services (Jon and Colleen at BrightPower, Billy and Pat at CSBR, and me through Minnesota Green Communities) executed diverse tasks along the way. We:

  • developed outreach materials
  • traveled CenterPoint and Xcel territory doing outreach, in person and by phone
  • created tools – checklists, worksheets, tips – to drive energy- and water-saving action
  • worked with Xcel to get data access
  • met with participants regularly in person and by phone to help them make use of their data
  • more I’ve forgotten over the years.

It’s exciting to finally be able to share what we learned!

Affordable Housing Healthy Cities

On Rental Housing and Markets

You may know that I also blog over at, and I just posted a three-part series on rental housing markets, affordable rental housing and related policy. (Three posts so far, it may grow). It was inspired by things happening in my back yard: a lot of hand-wringing about affordable housing, concerns about luxury buildings forcing up naturally-occurring affordable rents, and what can we do about it all. It’s conceptual enough I think it is useful anywhere.

I start off at my own owner-occupied four-unit apartment building where I explain How I Set Apartment Rents. I moved on to a basic housing market explainer in Housing Markets? Humbug! In the third, I walk through an overview of how big the need for affordable housing is, what current subsidy can — or really cannot — do to address the problem, and offer my thoughts on how to Reduce Affordable Housing Need in Three Steps.

map of rental cost burden twin ities

Rental Burden (paying more than 30% of income in rent)
Map credit: Elliot Altbaum


Affordable Housing Healthy Cities


I’m puzzling out how public health and affordable housing developers coordinate their work.

The overlay of Public Health and Affordable Housing developer engagement points

The overlay of Public Health and Affordable Housing developer engagement points

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Affordable Housing Facilitation

Leverage => Change

I am constantly challenging myself to find effective ways to leverage change in the world.  Sometimes it’s minor, like how to reduce my yardwork responsibilities.  Often it’s ambitious, like reducing apartment building utility consumption across Minnesota, or changing culture to make bicycling so normal people don’t even notice they’re doing it.

The Social Innovation LabI embed those efforts into my work and life, not necessarily focusing on it as my primary goal.  That’s why I was honored when long-time friend and fellow consultant Michael Bischoff of Clarity Factilitation invited me (as program coordinator with Minnesota Green Communities) to participate in a Social Innovation Lab as a system change case study. The Lab will focus on identifying and working with leverage points for change in complex systems.

I want to share a couple of leverage points I’m using in my current work. read more »

Affordable Housing Energy

Multi-family Apts. & Energy/Water Efficiency

existing building

I have spent countless hours of the last few years thinking about making existing multifamily buildings energy efficient.  The short answer is that it’s very, very hard, because there are so many structural hurdles in the way.  The long answer is finally, I see a glimmer of hope…

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