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Longmont Aims to Imitate CU Boulder Bid to Attract Low-income Residents to Green Movement

October 20, 2018 GMT

Longmont officials are aiming to expand opportunities for residents to take part in the movement toward greener neighborhoods and economies with a pilot program beginning in 2019.

The idea for the pilot was inspired by a University of Colorado Environmental Center initiative started in 2016 known as Foundations for Leaders Organizing for Water and Sustainability , which has brought together a group of students, residents and university staff working to enhance the environmental friendliness of Boulder’s low-income neighborhoods.

The FLOWS program has focused on Boulder Housing Partners properties for low and moderate-income households, where teams have gone to check for leaky toilets and pipes and install energy and water-saving devices like pipe insulation, efficient sink aerators, low-flow showerheads, LED and compact fluorescent light bulbs, weather-stripping and window film, all free of charge.

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The company Kohler even donated 27 dual-flush toilets to FLOWS that have been installed in Boulder Housing Partners homes.

Promising results have followed the university program’s efforts, which have made energy and water improvements at more than 300 homes in Boulder.

Reductions of about 10 to 15 percent in overall utility usage costs were seen in the 33-unit Madison apartment complex on 35th Street in Boulder over the six months of outreach and home improvements done there by FLOWS, according to Boulder Housing Partners Director of Sustainable Communities Tim Beal. The housing provider pays the monthly utility bills at the property.

“That dispelled the myth of, ‘People don’t care, and they especially don’t care if they’re not paying the bill,’” Beal said.

‘We are totally leaders’

Changing the narrative surrounding the perceived investments low-income and immigrant residents have made in the movement toward greener neighborhoods is a crucial aspect of the initiative.

“It was really cool to hear this program was not wanting to go into people’s homes to tell them how to do it and, ‘You need to do this,’” FLOWS Coordinator and Colombia native Angela Maria Ortiz Roa said.

Ensuring residents that practices they already incorporate — such as simply reusing store-bought juice containers as water bottles and turning down the heat by a couple degrees — are a big part of the solution to establishing green communities is a point of emphasis..

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“If you research the sustainability movement, it appears to be led by white men (in energy technology and engineering). It was really cool to be able to remind people that we might not be called leaders, but we are totally leaders in the sustainability movement, we just never are recognized,” Ortiz Roa said.

Training residents on how to install solar panels, smart toilets and even make biochar — a substance derived from heating biomass that can improve soil health — to bolster their credentials for obtaining jobs and leadership positions in the “green sector” in the future, and so they can apply green methods at home, is another FLOWS objective.

“As our communities and cities are forced into greener economies and greener ways, we want to equip these residents with the skills they need in order to lead that transition,” Ortiz Roa said.

‘People want to be more sustainable’

Longmont officials had planned on launching the pilot — under the re-branded moniker SOL, or Sustainable Opportunities, Lifestyles and Leadership — this past week, but have pushed back its start date to after the turn of the year, Neighborhood Resource Specialist Wayne Tomac said.

“We want to make sure all the pieces are in place to support a strong launch before it goes to the public and we don’t feel we’re quite there yet,” Tomac said.

The initiative in Longmont could take a different form than FLOWS has so far, Tomac said. It will possibly have a priority on helping homeowners improve their household’s environmental friendliness, rather than exclusively renters like those worked with in Boulder, CU Environmental Center Energy and Climate Justice program manager Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish said.

Working with homeowners as opposed to renters will present the program with fewer limits — replacing furnace systems hot water heaters, for example, is not always possible for teams operating in homes not owned by their tenants, Gabrieloff-Parish said.

“Part of what’s amazing about this program is that people want to be more sustainable, and because of the design of most of our homes, they feel they can’t be. But this project is allowing them to live more in line with their values,” Gabrieloff-Parish said.

“Helping Longmont create a similar project is a sign of success. It was always our goal to create a model program.”

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .

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