“It sounded like the United Nations,” said one participant at a solar energy workshop, where ECOSS conveyed information in Chinese, Vietnamese and Amharic. Two participant homeowners ultimately applied for and received solar grants, and are now producing solar energy.

This success was possible thanks to Solarize the Land Trust, a project piloted by Spark Northwest and Homestead Community Land Trust in King County, Washington. In total, this program has helped 11 low- to moderate-income homeowners start making electricity from the sun.

One of 11 homeowners to benefit from Solarize the Land Trust (middle).

For many families, solar can seem beyond reach—because of upfront costs, home prices or language barriers. To overcome these obstacles, Solarize the Land Trust brought together a unique team of solar experts, affordable homeownership providers, multicultural communicators and funders.

Over the summer of 2019, Spark Northwest, Homestead and ECOSS held workshops for Homestead’s homeowners to learn about solar, financing and the Solarize opportunity. Homeowners could then participate in a group purchase to receive a discount on installing solar and apply for a grant to help pay for it. Ultimately, 84 people attended workshops, 22 applied for grants, and 11 installed solar.

Under Homestead’s Community Land Trust model, an income-qualified buyer pays for and owns the home, while the land is owned collectively through Homestead. The home appreciates at a formula rate to keep it affordable to future low-income homeowners.

The homeowners led a competitive process to select a local solar installer for the group purchase. The selected installer, Puget Sound Solar, offered a discount to homeowners who participated in the program. Even with the group purchase savings, the upfront costs of installing solar still posed a major barrier for many of Homestead’s homeowners, so four foundations funded grants to help with the cost: All Points North Foundation, the Ren Che Foundation, Tudor Foundation and Union Bank. These grants helped ten homeowners, covering 65-100% of the system cost, depending on the homeowner’s site and preferences.

ECOSS and Puget Sound Solar visited homeowners to explain the solar panel installation process.

ECOSS’ Clean Energy program helps communities of color navigate language, cultural and knowledge barriers to access clean energy solutions. This perfectly complemented the Solarize the Land Trust program, where about 10% of Homestead homeowners have limited English proficiency.

“The Community Land Trust opportunity quickly gained steam because working directly with homeowners was simple and rewarding for our staff,” explained Jose Chi, one of ECOSS’ multicultural outreach managers.

ECOSS called each homeowner to explain the program in their preferred language and invited them to a workshop, where ECOSS offered simultaneous translation.

One multicultural homeowner is so excited about solar that “he asked for solar information in Vietnamese and Mandarin and he’s going to take it to work and give it to all of his neighbors,” said James Crawford, Residential Solar Adviser with Puget Sound Solar.

“Together we’ve made history,” said Kathleen Hosfeld, Homestead’s Executive Director at a gathering to celebrate the success of the program. “Going forward, housing must be both affordable and environmentally sustainable.”

Learn more about ECOSS’ Clean Energy outreach

Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS) educates and empowers businesses and diverse communities to implement environmentally sustainable practices. ECOSS leads industry, small businesses, communities and government to practical and sustainable environmental solutions. Through deep relationships built on trust and a capacity of 15+ languages, they deliver equitable strategies and results in stormwater compliance, pollution prevention, electrical vehicles, solar energy and recycling. Contact: William Chen, wchen@ecoss.org, (206) 767-0432 x1016; https://ecoss.org/

Spark Northwest accelerates the shift to clean energy one community at a time. Through its Solarize Northwest program, Spark Northwest has educated over 4,500 people in Washington and Oregon, resulting in over 1000 solar installations and over $21 million invested clean energy.  Contact: Jill Eikenhorst, jill@sparknorthwest.org, 206-457-5403; https://sparknorthwest.org/

Homestead Community Land Trust makes it possible for low- and moderate-income people of King County to own their own home. It was founded in 1992 to arrest the displacement of low- to moderate-income people from rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. Homestead builds and rehabs homes; makes and keeps them affordable permanently through the community land trust (CLT) model; and supports homeowners in successful ownership. Homestead has 215 homes in trust, and is one of the largest community land trusts in Washington State. http://www.homesteadclt.org/

Puget Sound Solar Founded in 2001, by Pam Burton and Jeremy Smithson, Puget Sound Solar, (PSS) is the most experienced solar installation company in Washington.  PSS installed the first permitted grid-tie solar PV system in Seattle. Puget Sound Solar is proud of their history of engaging in educational activities and environmental policy work to benefit future generations. They’re a socially responsible company and engaged in the community. Contact: Stu Frothingham, sfrothingham@pugetsoundsolar.com, (206) 706-1931; https://www.pugetsoundsolar.com/

All Points North Foundation is dedicated to navigating communities upward. Established in 2011, its funding priorities include projects that promote solar energy awareness and implementation and evidence-based programs that measurably improve public middle school education. https://www.allpointsnorthfoundation.org/

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