Investing in Local Affordable Housing and Energy Efficiency Upgrades

We tend to think that there are three ways we can make a difference in our communities:  volunteer, engage in activism, and make charitable contributions. There is a fourth way:  social impact investment. Community organizations through which one makes investments in underserved markets are known as Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). And the principal CDFI in Connecticut, a recent coming together of CDFIs in New Haven, Bridgeport, and Hartford, is called Capital for Change.

Capital for Change lends money to Connecticut businesses for affordable housing and for the introduction of energy efficiency upgrades to multi-family dwellings.  With horrific incidents occurring all around the world, such as in London and Honolulu, it is evident that many older buildings that house lower-income families not only lack energy efficiency features, but do not even meet current safety codes. Those who invest through Capital for Change help address these problems.

Social impact investments do good while providing an income stream to the investor. An investor with Captial for Change can, however, choose to receive no interest or a rate lower than the maximum for the length of the investment. Choosing a lower rate is effectively a contribution to the organization.

Capital for Change is seeking investments of as little as $1,000 from individuals and from foundations, faith-based organizations, and other entities. It pays interest annually for these investments, with longer-term investments receiving more favorable interest rates. They are as follows:

1 to 2 year investments: 0 to 2.5%

3 to 7 year investments: 0 to 3.0%

7 to 10 year investments: 0 to 3.5%

10 plus years: 0 to 4%

The Consumption of Guilt

I’m currently reading Jennifer Jacquet’s Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool (Pantheon, 2015), a book that distinguishes shame from guilt in ways that make guilt seem less valuable for societal change than we commonly think it is.

For example, we tend to respond to environmental problems by assuaging our guilt about them via consumption choices. We buy organic, dolphin-safe, free-range, etc. By doing this, we buy into the free-market concept of choice, which allows the wealthy and concerned to buy their way out of environmental degradation, while the use of pesticides, the killing of dolphins, and the mistreatment of chickens scarcely changes. The alternative is government regulation, which removes choice and ensures much less harm to animals and the environment.

Consumption choices can even make things worse, in two ways. One is that people who assuage their guilt through making choices that are good for animals or the environment more easily justify other sorts of misbehavior. The second way is that labeling standards that allow for choice undermine the possibility of serious regulation. To get a price premium, organic, dolphin-free, free-range products have to be the exception, not the rule. Therefore, the companies involved have extra incentive to oppose regulation.

Jacquet asks us to consider what would have happened to the ozone layer if CFC-free products were voluntary and expensive. The ozone layer was protected by government regulation worldwide, not by choice.

Another consideration is that even small changes by big institutions can make a big difference, while changes among some individuals make very little difference. It is better to shame companies and governments into action than try to instill guilt among individuals.

Jacquet argues that “we should not be encouraged to engage with our guilt as disenfranchised consumers, capable of making a change only through our purchases, and instead encouraged to engage as citizens.” Note the “only.” It is not wrong to make these purchases, only to stop there, to think that this is enough to salve our consciences and, therefore, fail to engage as citizens.

 

Contact CT Legislative Leaders re Environmental Bills

The budget plan for CT that is currently being considered includes deep cuts to clean energy and energy efficiency programs, and would eliminate funding for the CT Council on Environmental Quality. If passed, this budget would sweep millions in ratepayer and taxpayer dollars away from clean energy, while leaving us with fewer tools to protect our air and water.

Environmentally concerned CT citizens should contact legislative leaders to say:

  • Don’t Raid RGGI: Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) funds are used to reduce energy costs and speed the deployment of local clean energy solutions like rooftop solar. Deep cuts to RGGI hurt low-income families and impede job growth in Connecticut. Click here for the League’s fact sheet on RGGI.
  • Don’t Cut CT Green Bank: The CT Green Bank has helped finance tens of millions of dollars in private investment for in-state clean energy projects, helping make Connecticut a clean energy model for the nation.
  • Don’t Bail Out Millstone Nuclear: Say “No” to special deals for nuclear power at the expense of real renewable energy in CT. Click here for the League’s brief on Millstone subsidies.
  • Do Preserve CEQ:  Preserve funding for the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). CEQ is a small investment that makes a big difference to help protect public health and the environment in CT. Click here for the League’s brief on the Council
  • Do Maintain CT’s Leadership on Climate Change: We must continue to be national leaders on climate and use our membership in the U.S. Climate Alliance as a platform for leadership and innovation. As our federal government abdicates its environmental obligations, CT must fight climate change and ensure a robust clean energy economy.

Click here to use the CT League of Conservation Voters’ direct e-mail form, or contact the legislative leaders directly:

Sen. Pro Tem Martin Looney – Looney@senatedems.ct.gov
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz – Joe.aresimowicz@cga.ct.gov
Sen. Minority Leader Len Fasano – Len.Fasano@cga.ct.gov
Sen. Majority Leader Bob Duff – Bob.Duff@cga.ct.gov
Rep. Minority Leader Themis Klarides – Themis.Klarides@housegop.ct.gov

(This post is derived from a CT League of Conservation Voters e-mail)

 

CT League of Conservation Voters Has Different Sorts of Volunteer Needs

The CT League of Conservation Voters (CTLCV) is the sole environmental organization in CT that has a state PAC, endorses candidates, and gets involved in state elections, as well as lobbying at the state and local levels. It has three entities:  a 501(c)(3) environmental education fund, a 501(c)(4) political organization, and a PAC.

One of its political roles is to send Action Alerts to those who sign up. These alerts ask state citizens to contact their state reps and senators about legislative issues such as the one that was sent out yesterday to save the Council on Environmental Quality and the Community Investment Act from being eliminated in the state budget. Those who know little or nothing about this council and this act can read the LCV’s briefing papers about them (don’t worry; they’re brief). There are also alerts about protests and other events, about submitting testimony (you can read CTLCV’s testimony, and write your own; any state citizen can do this via e-mail). Both calls and e-mails, and testimony, mean a lot to our reps, who will see that their constituents care and are knowledgeable about environmental issues, even those that don’t receive much media exposure.

CTLCV also holds Citizen Lobby days in Hartford, a great learning experience for how the state legislature works and how environmental issues fare at the state level.

Another way people can help is with the Education Fund’s programs. The most exciting one is called CHISPA (“spark” in Spanish). It involves educating young people of color about environmental issues. Volunteers are needed to help with CHISPA field trips, to give talks and line up speakers, to help the students survey people, etc.

The Fund also has a new program to get clean buses in our cities. Volunteers are needed to educate and build up demand for clean buses in city neighborhoods, and to make calls to school board members to see who might be receptive to requiring clean buses the next time school bus contracts are bid out.

If you are interested in volunteering in either of these programs, contact Abi Rodriguez at abirod.ctlcv@gmail.com.

Religion and Environmental Stewardship

Green Houses of Worship is an environmental stewardship program sponsored by Connecticut’s Interreligious Eco-Justice Network (IREJN). It grants certificates of achievement for implementing eco-friendly measures in a congregation’s building and within the congregation. It’s a great way to raise the consciousness, and provide guidance, to a large number of people all at once and on an ongoing basis.

The program rewards three levels of achievement. Each congregation must take twelve of the steps in any level in order to be recognized. The steps include reducing hot water temperature to 120 degrees; developing a course of study based on the religion’s sacred texts, highlighting the importance of stewardship of the earth; adding “green” elements to youth group curriculums; running a weatherization campaign for individual homes through the Home Energy Solutions program at Energize CT; and showing environmental movies and inviting environmentally-oriented speakers. These steps are all in Level 1. IREJN can recommend financing for those steps that require financial expenditure, whether through its ally the Connecticut Green Bank or otherwise.

The program is young. Only five congregations have received certificates of acheivement:

Unitarian Universalist Manchester–Level 3
Unitarian Universalist Hartford–Level 2
St. John’s Episcopal Vernon–Level 2
United Church of Christ Goshen–Level 2
United Church of Christ Lebanon–Level 1

IREJN also has volunteer opportunities relating to its 5th Annual Climate and Creation Stewardship Summit on Saturday, October 28, 2017 from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm at Spring Glen Church in Hamden.The focus of this year’s Summit is on water.

IREJN is currently seeking members for the summit’s Steering Committee. The committee meets (usually via conference call) every other week for 90 minutes. In the fall, it meets every week. Right now, the Steering Committee is putting together the program and securing sponsorships. Steering Committee members also help with outreach and marketing, as well as volunteer the day of the event. You don’t have to be religious, but IREJN does ask that everyone show respect for the various faith traditions.

The United Church of Christ (UCC) in Connecticut has a nice page of recommendations for environmental action by individuals, clergy, and congregations. These range from an Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast and congregations divesting from fossil fuel stocks to reducing individuals’ carbon footprints and becoming a Green House of Worship.

The UCC’s Northeast Environmental Justice Center holds an annual Environmental Justice For All! Retreat, which takes place at the Silver Lake Conference Center in Sharon (this year’s was in May). After three years focused on youth from communities of color — because communities of color bear a disproportionate burden from industry and government decisions regarding policies that, intentionally or not, negatively impact access to clean air and water — the retreat is now open to all high-school youth. It provides the opportunity for youth to engage in and even lead conversation and expand their knowledge of issues affecting vulnerable communities locally and around the world, and to grow into leaders on environmental justice issues. Click here to read an article about last month’s summit.

 

 

 

 

Two VISTA Positions Open at Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven

The first things to know about Americorps’ VISTA program is that there is no upper age limit on participation, and that work is full-time with a stipend of $560 a week, plus other benefits. Thus, a VISTA job can be filled just as easily by a retired or mostly-retired individual as by a young adult. The principal difference is that an older person will have a lifetime of experience to bring to the work.

Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven (NHS) is an almost 40-year-old nonprofit that seeks to revitalize selected neighborhoods by increasing homeownership; making homes beautiful, energy-efficient, and affordable; and helping residents take charge of their neighborhoods. It not only fixes up houses for sale, but also provides comprehensive pre- and post-purchase homebuyer/homeowner education classes, financial fitness workshops, and credit counseling to low- and moderate-income residents of the Greater New Haven area.

One of the two NHS positions involves community engagement, that is, outreach, working to engage past graduates of the NHS Resident Leadership Program, improvement of volunteer recruitment and retention, and investigating and addressing the intersection of energy conversation and crime prevention through environmental design.

The other position relates to the new NHS Environmental Leadership Program. It includes training NHS staff on environmental issues and resources, and researching residents’ energy use behavior to be able to better understand their needs and inform the NHS energy conservation curriculum. If you’d like to participate in this program, which starts this week, click on the second link in this paragraph.

For more info about these positions, each of which lasts a year and begins on August 28, see this NHS webpage.

 

 

Paddle with a Purpose, and Help Save the Connecticut River from an Invasive Plant

You can volunteer to help the CT River Conservancy rid the Connecticut River of an invasive plant that has a name beloved by Chinese food lovers: the water chestnut. However, this water chestnut is an invader from Europe that clogs waterways, lakes, and ponds, and alters aquatic habitats. The plants have to be hand pulled, but they come easily.

water chestnuts

The catch is that the event is BYOB – Bring Your Own Boat (rowboat, kayak, canoe, whatever). A few shallow draft motor boats are especially needed to help shuttle plants back to land.

Water chestnut pulling will occur in two locations on five different days:

Mattabesset  Meadows, Middletown
Saturdays 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm | June 10 & 24 | July 8

Keeney Cove, Glastonbury
Wednesdays 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm | June 14 & 21

 

To sign up, contact River Steward Alicea Charamut at acharamut@ctriver.org, 860-704-0057. I assume she will provide details about where exactly to bring your boat. Supplies and instruction on how to pull the plants will be provided.