Energy Efficiency Assistance Program (2017-Ongoing)

Energy Efficiency Assistance Program (2017-Ongoing)

Original Future Build Staff members (from left to right): Brian Duell, Carla King, Anetha Walker, Guy O. Williams, and Lynette Cobb

“Working for DWEJ definitely came as an answer to my prayer request. This life-changing experience has impacted my life, as well as my family’s lives in a way that I would have never imagined.  It manifested as a source of restoration for my sense of dignity and integrity, which I had been longing for. When I talk about what I do for a living, it gives me a sense of pride that is 00000rewarding and gratifying. Entering into the field that DWEJ works in definitely represented a new territory for me, and therefore a challenge. I credit my success within this company, first to God’s grace. Second, to the support of a great team of qualified colleagues that care about what they do.”
– Carla King, Energy Efficiency Specialist and graduate of DWEJ’s weatherization training program

“With the collaboration of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice (DWEJ) and Operation Able, I enrolled in the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and graduated with honors. The impact DWEJ has made on my life and career has been life-changing. Midway through my career, DWEJ gave me an opportunity to work with people again, and change their lives! DWEJ is an awesome organization to be a part of. Its mission has made and is still making a positive impact in the city of Detroit. DWEJ is all about making sure people live in a healthy and safe community. My experience has been a blessing and I am grateful. I’m surrounded by caring, intelligent, and remarkable people, who want to make a difference in the World for ALL people. I am proud to be one of their team members.”
– Anetha Walker, Energy Efficiency Specialist and graduate of DWEJ’s weatherization training program

What is the Energy Efficiency Assistance Program?

DWEJ’s Energy Efficiency Assistance (EEA) Program was born out of our Future Build Construction Group. We hired three graduates from the Future Build weatherization workforce training program in May, 2017 to work on the EEA program. We are happy to say that Anetha and Carla, two of our success stories, still work with us to this day.

Since 2008, Michigan utility companies have been required by law to create Energy Efficiency Assistance programs to help meet state energy standards. DTE Energy, Detroit’s largest electric utility, launched its EEA program in 2009, with a portion devoted to helping low-income residents who often pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income on their energy bills. 

DTE’s early attempts included supplementing federal weatherization funding to specialized agencies, but this proved insufficient in supporting low-income communities. Like many utilities, DTE struggled to attract participants for their low-income energy efficiency programs, due in part to language barriers, lack of information, negative past experiences with utility shutoffs, and the complex paperwork required to enroll. To remedy this issue, they created partnerships with more than 30 agencies and organizations that served and understood the needs and concerns of  low-income residents. DWEJ is one of those partner organizations.

In 2014, DTE added the Supporting Energy Efficiency in Detroit (SEED) Homes program to its EEA program as a way to expand their energy efficiency services by combining them with existing bill assistance benefits. DTE supplemented its partner organizations’ existing resources with its own funds generated from utility ratepayer surcharges, allowing its partners to expand their services to include energy efficiency improvements. In exchange, the partner organizations helped DTE increase program participation and in just the first year, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an amount comparable to the annual energy-related emissions of more than 1,000 homes.

By doing our part in this large-scale project, we not only help DTE honor its mandate to meet Michigan’s energy efficiency standards, we help our low-income residents reduce their costs and reduce their emissions. It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved. On a more personal level, by making it possible for eligible participants to replace some of their old household appliances with newer, more energy efficient ones, we change lives in our community for the better. Through this work, DWEJ can address and improve household energy costs and efficiency.

Day-to-Day Work in the EEA Program

We are proud of the work we do, but none of it would be possible without our devoted staff: Lynette Cobb, Carla King, and Anetha Walker. 

Every day, our Energy Efficiency Specialists, Carla and Anetha, receive calls from local DTE Energy customers looking to benefit from the free services the EEA program offers. Their role is to educate callers on cost savings if they replaced some of their older household appliances (refrigerators, furnaces and water heaters, as well as incandescent light bulbs) with new energy efficient models. They then perform an assessment of each customer’s annual income to determine if they qualify for the DTE EEA Program. Once the assessment is complete and the customers have demonstrated their eligibility, Carla and Anetha create customer cases for new appliance installations.

Lynette Cobb, our EEA Program Administrator, then works with private contractors and delivery people to make sure the approved customers get their new appliances delivered and installed. Anetha and Carla also go into homes to help with the installation of LED light bulbs. Participants are educated about the EEA program, energy efficiency measures, the equipment being installed and their emissions, and the positive impact this will have on their energy bills. We have experienced strong customer satisfaction as a result of our hard work and our customers are very happy with the service they receive from us!

Positive Impacts of the Energy Efficiency Assistance Program 

I had a beautiful experience with you guys. I was so blessed that I received that call and that you guys were able to provide me with a new furnace. I cannot express the impact this overall experience has had on me, it was a miracle.”

Alberta Powers, Detroit resident  (Read her story.)

“This program is awesome. I’m a senior who was in desperate need of a furnace which was given to me. I could not have afforded to buy one. This program is needed very much and I appreciate being a recipient. Thank you so much.”

– Renee Henderson, Detroit resident

By helping families lower the burden of their high energy costs through our EEA program, we have helped improve:

  • Energy bills: Program participants enjoy energy cost savings
  • Quality of life: They develop more confidence in their ability to pay bills and avoid power shutoffs
  • Homes: By undergoing energy upgrades, participants’ homes become more comfortable and safer to live in
  • Air quality: Energy is saved and less pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere by polluting and expensive power plants. This also reduces the need to build new power plants
  • Public health: By improving air quality, Detroit residents run a lower risk of suffering from four of the leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease, and stroke, which are often directly associated with the presence of these pollutants in our atmosphere
  • Reliability: Reduced energy use also puts less strain on our vital electricity infrastructure. This is particularly important, given the amount of energy grid reliability issues we have in Michigan.

Job Creation

Jobs like the ones held by Carla, Anetha and Lynette are just a few of the tens of thousands created in Michigan by the energy efficiency industry. These jobs make up two thirds of Michigan’s clean energy jobs. This employment sector includes jobs like those in our EEA program, as well as jobs related to retrofitting ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in schools, insulating homes, and manufacturing ENERGY STAR-rated appliances. 

Detroit Sustainability Center (2008)

Detroit Sustainability Center (2008)

In 2008, DWEJ and the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum partnered to develop plans for a building that would embody our sustainability ideals – the Detroit Sustainability Center (DSC). The DSC came from our trail-blazing Build Up Detroit program and was created to be a model community-driven green development that symbolized Detroit’s commitment to a green and socially just future, and serve as a community and professional resource hub for sustainability.

DSC Green cafe – photo by inFORM studio, Conservation Design Forum, and URS Corporation

Our Vision for the Detroit Sustainability Center

  1. Increase public and private collaboration to bring a comprehensive and efficient approach to promote greener, healthier buildings and communities.
  2. Enhance quality of life for the residents and workers in Detroit and surrounding communities.
  3. Expand the image of Detroit as a model of an equitable, sustainable green economy.
  4. Establish credible green policies and programs across the city and region through innovative public-private collaboration.

The idea behind the DSC was to create a centrally located model of an ecologically sustainable building. It would be the catalyst for promoting Detroit’s revitalization by providing a new model for urban redevelopment. The DSC would provide space for civic engagement, job training, green business incubation, green construction, and policy innovation initiatives. 

The Detroit Sustainability Center would provide:

  • State-certified job training in emerging green industries and brownfield remediation for displaced, unemployed, and underemployed workers
  • Resources for developers regarding green building techniques and financing tools for sustainable development
    •  A center for organizing and youth leadership in environmental stewardship
    • A green cafe serving locally grown food
  • A coordinating center for policy around sustainability issues
  • An incubator for startup businesses pursuing environmentally sustainable practices
  • Technical assistance to businesses to reduce their carbon footprint by incorporating pollution prevention mechanisms and/or employing best practices
    •  A sustainable solutions lab for public education, hands-on training and demonstrations
    • A Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum destination site with public access that would model Detroit’s unique opportunities for sustainable retrofitting of historic structures.

A Collaborative Effort 

Designing the DSC would not have been possible without the help and support of four gifted graduate students from the University of Michigan: Alycia Hillman, Sheila Somashekhar, Carmen Violich, and Natalie Zappella. Their project Catalyzing a Sustainable Detroit: A Community-Directed Strategic Plan was completed in collaboration with DWEJ, the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, and an array of Detroit stakeholders, such as documentary-maker Bill Kubota, and businesses and organizations working on sustainable development. 

The purpose of the project was to, in the authors’ words, “represent the ways in which the tenets of sustainability could improve the lives of all people living and working in Detroit” and “to create a strategic plan for a sustainability resource and community activity center tailored to the unique conditions in the city of Detroit”. Without the help of these students, we would not have been able to plan our vision in such a meaningful way. We are extremely thankful for their help. 

inFORM studio, Conservation Design Forum, along with URS Corporation were wonderful partners throughout the process as well. They helped us with the creation of our 2010  Detroit Sustainability Center: Schematic Design Package.

Despite our plans, the Detroit Sustainability Center has yet to become a reality. However, it serves as a great example of our history as innovators, a trait that lives on to this day as we continue on a journey of transformation. It also remains on our “to-do” list. DWEJ would love to see this project or one like it become a reality one day. Would you? We cannot do it without your support.

Energy Education (2017-Ongoing)

Energy Education (2017-Ongoing)

DWEJ has been involved in energy policy and education in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Flint through a Joyce Foundation grant we received in October of 2017. The purpose of our work is to create climate and energy policy engagement at the state and local levels. Energy policy reform is an important expansion over our “traditional” issues of focus. Energy policy that is environmentally, socially, and racially just reduces pollutants from energy production that both accelerate climate change and disproportionately affect communities of color. Not only do the residents of these communities bear the brunt of that burden, they often pay the highest energy bills. 

Addressing these issues directly can lead to a healthier, more equitable, society. Expanding renewable and electric vehicle infrastructure will create new green job markets, creating greater economic mobility and opportunity. Most importantly, these changes will help create a cleaner and more sustainable planet for future generations. 

Why Expand our Work beyond Detroit to Grand Rapids and Flint?

Momentum in Detroit had been growing around energy policy and its impacts on air quality, climate change, renewable source, and fair pricing when we applied for the Joyce Foundation grant. The CA-PHE Public Health Action Plan, which offered strategies to improve air quality in the city, had just been published. DWEJ was on its way to publishing the city’s first Climate Action Plan. In that same 2016-2017 timeframe, we were the first organization to bring an environmental justice voice to the conversation in Lansing around Michigan’s proposed clean energy bill (SB 437 and SB 438), and the only organization specifically representing our constituency to enter the statewide conversation. 

Why did we choose to enter that conversation? Simple. Five years earlier, when Michigan’s first clean energy bill was debated, environmental justice was not part of the discussion and critical needs had no voice. As a result, Detroit’s municipal waste incinerator was defined as “clean” renewable energy under the new regulation. Needless to say, it was terrible news for our community. It took another four years of fighting on the local level to close this toxic facility. Even after closing the incinerator, Detroit continues to have the highest asthma rates in Michigan. 

Our Solution

In order for our voice to be heard loud and clear – not typical when new energy policy is being created – and for environmental justice to always have a seat at the table when decisions are being made, we expanded our grassroots reach beyond Detroit. Grand Rapids and Flint were chosen because both cities are also home to low-income communities of color who shared in the burden of energy poverty and unequal impacts of pollution.

Our history of working with a wide array of stakeholders allows us to put our skills, our networks, and our dynamic vision to work on a broad scale, expanding the connective power of the region around energy issues. Our intention is to create a broader energy environmental justice movement and give our communities’ a greater voice at the state level to influence the next vote on energy policy.

Before that becomes possible on a large scale, it’s vital for under-represented voices to understand the energy world and how it impacts their lives. Energy literacy is an increasingly important skill in our climate changing world, and is why we are engaged in these energy education and grassroots efforts. If we can help communities and policy decision makers speak the same language, they will become a unified force in a positive energy future.

Our Impact 

DWEJ’s purpose has often been that of a partner rather than a leader. We build trust within the community by forging alliances, joining existing networks, and finding workable, community-based solutions.

Between 2017 – 2019, we worked to create positive impact toward the creation of better energy policy in Michigan by:

  • Identifying critical equality issues through community engagement. Although all three communities face similar issues (unhealthy levels of air pollution, energy rates, and site regulations), there are also very distinct differences
  • Educating local stakeholders on these issues to develop action-oriented solutions
  • Activating alliances of local organizations to implement these solutions
  • Working with residents to drive state-level change 
  • Evaluating the short- and long-term impacts of our efforts so that we can improve our methods of engagement and outreach

Our Work in Detroit

  • Detroit’s energy usage derived from renewable energy sources was only at 3%, far from the City’s goal of 35%. DWEJ has been involved in multiple activities to help the city improve this figure.
  • We worked with the City Council, its Climate Change Subcommittee, and our coalition of partners to create a climate ordinance for the city. This resulted in the passage of Detroit’s first greenhouse gas ordinance on July 24, 2019, aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 30% in the next 5 years. 
  • We have been trying to remove zoning roadblocks
  • We participated in the coalition that worked on what would happen after the shutdown of the Detroit Incinerator.
  • We are advocating for environmental justice equity at state energy tables and continuing conversations with local and state elected officials
  • Finally, in our citywide engagement role for the Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda, DWEJ is ensuring that the City takes action on the energy-related commitments in the Agenda. 

Our Work in Grand Rapids

  • DWEJ strengthened and deepened our partnership ties through our continued involvement
  • We co-hosted a renewable energy town hall with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and other local groups where Consumers Energy, the Michigan Public Service Commission, and State Senators were on the panel. Our allies in the Grand Rapids Environmental Justice Coalition expressed increasing interest in advocacy and building the environmental literacy of elected officials, and our connections were vital for the hosted town hall on renewable energy.
  • We published the Neighborhood Environmental Action Report in conjunction with LINC UP
  • We have been asked to continue working with local groups as an organizer for environmental justice issues and energy issues

Our Work in Flint

Flint has been, and will continue to be, consumed by water issues. Bringing energy into the conversation took time given what they face. Our partners, however, feel as strongly as we do that energy policy/infrastructure is one of the next pressing issue areas for the city.

  • DWEJ has become a core team member of the monthly Sierra Club Environmental Justice Chapter-hosted calls and meetings
  • We hosted a successful fireside chat in which the mayor, local activists, and State Senator Jim Ananich’s office participated
  • Established and deepened relationships with residents by meeting them in their communities

Our Ongoing Goals 

We have been working hard to build stronger relationships, to meet people where they live, and respond to their needs.  

Our goals remain to: 

  • Expand our grassroots reach in Detroit by focusing on policy opportunities that emphasize equity, environmental justice, climate change, and clean energy solutions
  • Our Community Engagement Coordinator is currently working in collaboration with the Detroit 2030 District and the Renewable Energy Committee of the Detroit City Council’s Green Taskforce to help both entities with their outreach efforts throughout the City of Detroit to promote building energy efficiency and solar energy. 
  • Broaden our audience as much as possible
  • Strengthen networks in Detroit by bringing people together around common causes
  • Elevate voices in the community through our social media channels and storytelling tools

The Delray Neighborhood Framework Plan (2019-2020)

The Delray Neighborhood Framework Plan (2019-2020)

Helping Create a Community-Driven Neighborhood Plan 

The Delray plan is one of several neighborhood plans created by the City of Detroit’s Planning and Development Department. For Delray, the City selected Rosetti, an architecture and planning based firm headquartered in Downtown Detroit, as lead consultant. Joining the team also, was Interface Studio, a planning and urban design firm based in Philadelphia. Having been selected to lead the community engagement strategy for the City’s Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda, DWEJ was added to this team to make sure environmental justice was incorporated into the conversation. Our goal was to make sure community needs would be accounted for throughout the process by helping to build the Framework Plan’s community engagement component.

A Bit More About Delray… 

The Delray Neighborhood Framework Plan is a proactive response to the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge/Trade Crossing between Windsor, Canada and Detroit. The 167 acre US terminal complex will be built in Delray. This construction project will radically alter the neighborhood through building the terminal complex, the destruction of numerous structures and roadways, and requiring the relocation of many residents. 

Delray is a historic neighborhood situated on the southwest side of Detroit. It was once called the “Hungarian Village” due to the many immigrants who settled there from that country. Over time, Delray and the surrounding neighborhoods became heavily industrialized and significantly underpopulated. Today, it is home to the expanded Marathon oil refinery and the largest sewage treatment facility in North America. Delray also shares a border with Detroit’s 48217 zip code, found to be the most polluted zip code in Michigan. 

Community Engagement Summary

As a result of the environmental justice issues faced by the Delray community, the Framework Plan includes a significant community engagement process, which DWEJ helped build with the rest of the consulting team and the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition, who is serving as the Delray community liaison. This inclusive Community Engagement Plan sought to build trust through resident surveys, interviews, public meetings, advertising, and data collection. In other words, the goal of the engagement process was to work with the people of Delray to create a collective vision for what the neighborhood might look like during and after the construction of the bridge, rather than informing them after the fact. 

After completing the initial phase and distributing surveys and informational materials throughout Delray in July, the next challenge was to obtain input from the ~430 households who decided not to move out of the neighborhood. It was important to reach and engage them so consensus could be developed around key issues, such as development and revitalization, economic development, transportation and access, environment and infrastructure, and vegetative buffers and screenings. 

Despite COVID-19 having affected our team’s community engagement efforts, we are still striving to make sure the voices of Delray neighborhood residents are heard throughout the planning process.

See the official Delray Neighborhood Framework Plan.

The Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda (2019)

The Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda (2019)

Recognized as a Trusted Community Leader

Along with many other organizations and Detroit residents, DWEJ spent years pressing for an Office of Sustainability within the Detroit City Government. Our combined efforts were rewarded in 2017 when Mayor Duggan established the Detroit Office of Sustainability. This action, which coincided with the publication of Detroit’s first grassroots Climate Action Plan, created goals for applying sustainability across all elements of City departments and domains, and brought Detroit into alignment with other large cities that were already addressing climate change.

Two years later, we saw the results of our work building the Detroit Climate Action Plan become the foundation of the Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda. After being created and staffed, the Office of Sustainability committed to create its own sustainability plan that would outline a strategic roadmap to create a more sustainable city where all Detroiters thrive and prosper in a more equitable and green city, as well as work together as resource stewards.

The Office of Sustainability began searching for a consulting team to help them implement a thorough, citywide community engagement process to generate the agendas’ goals and actions. Their goal was truly to reflect the will of the people of Detroit, especially those that had often been excluded from past planning processes. 

Building Strategy through Community Collaboration 

We were selected to oversee the design and implementation of the engagement phase, in conjunction with AECOM, EcoWorks, SAGA Marketing, and coUrbanize. It was truly a blessing for us earn this opportunity. Our goal was to work with grassroots community partners to determine how to move forward together with a shared vision, and to include residents from the beginning. 

Through our three-phase community engagement strategy, we used a wide array of methods to engage Detroiters in as many neighborhoods and demographics as possible, such as:

  • 14 Sustainability Ambassadors from the community hired to maintain an ongoing presence in their neighborhoods 
  • 4 Workshops relating to: (1) Environment and Health, (2) Housing and Neighborhoods, (3) Infrastructure and Open Space, (4) Transportation and Economic Opportunity
  • 4 Town Hall meetings hosted across the city, which were widely publicized
  • Paper and online surveys in multiple languages and formats that were shared at community meetings, face-to face, or distributed by the Sustainability Ambassadors. They were also circulated online through e-mail lists, websites, Twitter, and other social platforms, as well as through the coUrbanize website.
  • 7 focus groups targeting under-represented communities

A Plan that Elevates the Voices of Detroit Neighborhoods 

Through this robust engagement process, our team reached thousands of Detroiters (residents and businesses), to learn more about the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, as well as to hear their voices, opinions, and suggestions about building a more sustainable Detroit. We are proud to say that: 

  • 6,800 Detroiters were engaged
  • 1,600 surveys were collected in Spanish and English
  • 1,200 online comments were collected on coUrbanize
  • 2,000 Detroiters were reached by attending 100+ existing community meetings
  • 860+ Detroiters met with  Sustainability Ambassadors
  • 370 Detroiters were engaged through Town Halls
  • 50+ Detroit-based organizations were engaged through eight Practitioner Workshops

Our combined, collaborative efforts allowed the voice of the people to not only be heard, but to influence and guide the development and focus of the Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda. 

Read more about the Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda Engagement Phase

Once this intensive engagement phase was accomplished, the Office of Sustainability laid out its plan for an accessible, transparent, and easy-to-read Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda. The Agenda was created to achieve four outcomes: (1) Healthy, Thriving People; (2) Affordable, Quality Homes; (3) Clean, Connected Neighborhoods; and (4) an Equitable, Green City. Through these outcomes, the City is committed to achieving 10 goals and implementing 43 actions to address many of the most pressing challenges that Detroiters face today.

Read the full report of the Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda