CHPC’s water affordability initiative works to increase access to water conservation resources for the nonprofit multifamily affordable rental housing sector in California. Below is the second article in a GREEN series focused on leaders, best practices, and emerging trends for water conservation in affordable housing. We will cover graywater reuse, high efficiency fixtures, sewer service fees, sub-metering, and landscape irrigation in urban and rural settings.
GREEN members are responding to the drought. These are their stories.
Self-Help Enterprises invests in affordable housing, community development, and water conservation in the San Joaquin Valley. We spoke with Betsy McGovern-Garcia, Director of Real Estate Development, to learn about their drought resilience strategies.
Self-Help Enterprises provides services in rural unincorporated communities that often lack adequate housing, water, and sewer service. How have conservation requirements and more expensive water rates from the drought affected your low-income deed restricted properties and the people you serve?
Betsy: All of our developments rely heavily on groundwater, a rapidly depleting resource. This impacts our ability to provide affordable homes, clean water, and reliable infrastructure to low-income families and workers. The persistent drought has increased costs and administrative burden in several key areas:
Some Community Service Districts (CSDs) have a moratorium on all new development. Predevelopment costs have also increased due to longer testing periods for wells, more advanced building system designs, and water demand forecasting. Despite designing water-efficient developments, two of our projects have stalled.
Some water districts have allowed new development but require builders to drive in water for all construction activities rather than connect to existing water lines. Construction costs increase when you have to transport and store water or delay construction based on delivery schedules and water quality.
The rising cost of water is straining our operating budgets and reserves, despite proactive conservation efforts. We benchmark energy and water usage across our portfolio with WegoWise to prioritize building improvements and monitor costs. In at least three properties, we are experiencing higher operating costs for water despite having reduced total consumption due to water rate increases ranging from 186% to 260%.
Despite these challenges, how do you work with local governments to move your projects forward and find new solutions?
Betsy: We have partnered with more than 60 Community Service Districts (CSD) across eight counties to complete 29,608 sewer connections. We help CSDs secure funding for permanent and sustainable water systems by providing technical assistance for outreach, education, financial analysis, and environmental feasibility. We have also built test wells on some properties and paid fees early for others.
As part of our long-term strategy, we now invest more time and resources into site due diligence and community outreach. Through our Drought Assistance Program, we’re partnering with local cities and counties to help communities and families connect to water systems, and purchase or expand wells. Increasing financial resources, improving technical assistance, and deepening government partnerships would allow us to expand critical services for more communities and districts in need.
CHPC recently learned about the moisture-based sensors and graywater retrofits that you are pursuing. How are those projects going?
Betsy: We replaced control timers with moisture-based sensors for outdoor irrigation and are integrating a graywater system in an upcoming affordable rental project that will reuse water from sinks and showers for outdoor landscaping. The sensors are active and we expect the graywater system to be under construction in May. Replacing fixtures across our portfolio has been a challenge because many CSDs do not offer incentives or rebates typically available in larger water districts. Through the Low Income Weatherization Program (LIWP) we are able to secure incentives for fixture replacement as a result of the associated energy savings.
What can affordable housing owners and water managers in urban regions learn from water conservation in the San Joaquin Valley?
Betsy: Do not wait until you are in a crisis to find solutions – we should all be proactive, evolve peer networks, and embrace sustainable water practices.
In the next blog post, we will reveal the opportunities and challenges to installing graywater systems for indoor and outdoor use at multifamily affordable housing properties.
CHPC’s water conservation work is generously made possible through the California Drought Action Initiative program of Resources Legacy Fund. To learn more about CHPC’s water conservation advocacy efforts or to join the GREEN Water Working Group, contact Collin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (213) 785-5734.
The Green Rental home Energy Efficiency Network (GREEN) is a coalition of mission-driven and service organizations across California working collaboratively for the inclusion of multifamily rental housing as a priority in federal- and state-funded energy efficiency programs. GREEN also works to improve the regulatory and administrative provisions to enable a higher rate of green retrofits to public and privately owned assisted housing in California. The California Housing Partnership convenes GREEN to increase access to energy efficiency resources for multifamily rental properties in California and ensure that publicly assisted properties serving the state’s lowest-income households receive an equitable distribution of these resources.