How King County, Wash., overcame income, language barriers to install 11 new home solar systems

Solarize

For many families, solar can seem beyond reach because of upfront costs, home prices, or language barriers. To overcome these obstacles over the summer of 2019, Spark Northwest and Homestead Community Land Trust launched Solarize the Land Trust, holding workshops in King County, Wash. Here, homeowners could learn about solar, financing and the Solarize opportunity from a team of solar experts, affordable homeownership providers, multicultural communicators and funders.

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.

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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.

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.

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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. 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.

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.

About 10% of Homestead homeowners have limited English proficiency, so partners turned to Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS) to help these homeowners navigate the program, an organization that educates and empowers businesses and diverse communities to implement environmentally sustainable practices. 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.

February is Operations & Maintenance Month here at Solar Builder. Check out all of our O&M news and insights this month right here.

“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.

“It sounded like the United Nations,” said one participant at the workshop, where ECOSS translated the program into Chinese, Vietnamese, and Amharic. Two of these homeowners ultimately applied for and received solar grants, and are now producing solar energy.

One 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.”

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