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Twin Cities program uses solar to expand affordable housing


The Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metropolitan Area, commonly known as the Twin Cities, is seeking building owners interested in solar energy to set aside additional apartments for low-income renters.

Twin Cities affordable housing program: through solar

The Twin Cities Metropolitan Council is offering suburban rental property owners to add solar panels to their buildings to increase the number of eligible units for Section 8 vouchers. In this regard, the launched-project is called Solar-for-Vouchers.

“We’re looking to be able to find that sweet spot of someone interested in solar and open to having more vouchers,” Peter Lindstrom, a former suburban mayor, told Energy News Network.

In this regard, those owners who meet the requirements will gain access to group purchasing. They’ll also have a streamlined permitting process estimated to lower solar installation costs by 5% to 15%.

This approach aims to use the growing financial appeal of solar energy and ship it into affordable housing results in the Twin Cities area.

According to an ENN report, the Twin Cities is one of the tightest housing markets for low-income renters in the U.S. Although there has been significant growth in multifamily housing in the region, several new-built apartments in the area are not affordable for low- and moderate-income residents.

The U.S. Department of Housing is funding many of the region’s Section 8 programs. Therefore, the department aids residents in paying their rent. However, this program remained closed to new applicants as COVID-19, and the lack of affordable housing severally affected demand.

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Benefits and challenges

Under the Section 8 program, applicants can reduce the cost of rent to about 30% of their monthly household income. Nevertheless, many of them need to wait for years to happen, and not all applicants can finally acquire this reduction.

For instance, in 2019, only 56% of Section 8 participants could find an apartment to rent after waiting, on average, 22 months just to get a voucher.

Cameron Bailey, regional planner and solar advisor, and Baris Gumus-Dawes, Met Council senior researcher, developed the program.

The developers acknowledge there are several market and participation restrictions related to the program. Building owners who want to participate must add Section 8 units and not rely on those they already rent.

Buildings restrictions are also a challenge. In this regard, buildings cannot be taller than five stories and have no fewer than five apartments. Apartment owners cannot rent only 10% of their units as Section 8. Must buildings with more apartments have to add more Section 8 units.

Bailey said that many residents would not directly benefit from having solar projects on their buildings. The reason? they pay for electricity separately from rent.

The program requires building owners to use solar money to maintain affordable units for Section 8 renters.

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