Since its founding in 1937, the Lowell Housing Authority (LHA) has stayed true to its commitment to provide safe, affordable housing for the people who need it most. But staying true to its mission, does not mean that the LHA has remained static or shied from new ventures. In fact, the LHA has been constant in embracing new ideas and change in anticipation of the changing needs of the community it serves and the continuing financial restraints on a public subsidy corporation. Its myriad programs and activities are evidence of its commitment to provide social services that will strengthen the individual, families and the community.
Today the LHA has a total of 1,896 public housing units (state and federal) for families, elderly and handicapped located at 31 sites throughout Lowell. In addition, the LHA owns two additional sites that house community centers and LHA offices.
As the oldest housing authority in Massachusetts, almost one-third of its units were built over 70 years ago. “Much of LHA’s older stock is not well insulated and lacks energy efficient roofs, windows, doors, and siding. On top of that, our heating and cooling systems in our older buildings had seen better days,” said Bill Duggan, Deputy Director of Facilities Management. “Equipment failures were not only causing discomfort for our residents, especially our elderly residents, but repairs were also a significant drain on our resources – time and money. And, of course, these older systems were extremely inefficient. We were paying over $4 million a year for gas, electric and water.”
LHA pays for electricity for all but 132 apartments and pays for all of the gas. “With escalating energy prices taking an ever increasing portion of our budget, we knew we had to get better control over our energy costs, without decimating our capital budget,” said Duggan.
In 2007, LHA embarked upon a two-pronged approach: a $9 Million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development HUD-Approved energy conservation capital improvement program to increase energy efficiency and membership in PowerOptions natural gas and electricity programs to manage the volatility in energy prices.
“We replaced aging boiler and domestic hot water systems, installed high efficiency lighting, and put in place a half-dozen other conservation measures to cut down on our energy consumption,” explained Duggan. “At the same time, we signed up for PowerOptions, enabling us to buy both natural gas and electricity at predictable and fixed prices over the long-term. We’ve cut our electric and gas costs by 50% and we are no longer seeing the extreme fluctuations in prices of several years ago.”
For LHA, it’s been a win-win. Future savings from their capital improvements pay for the construction costs over a 12-year period. Their energy consumption savings and the energy budget predictability that comes with their PowerOptions contracts mean that LHA can put more resources toward property maintenance and other energy and facility upgrades – all without any additional taxpayer dollars or major impact on their budget.
“Working with the PowerOptions staff has been another plus for us. We were able to quickly put contracts into place and start benefitting from them. The staff performs rigorous due diligence, helps make understanding the contracts easy, and advocates for us if any issues with suppliers arise. This saves us valuable staff time, which means we can continue to focus our resources on improving public housing in Lowell,” said Duggan. “That’s a win-win for everyone.”