Energy poverty is a severe form of poverty housing partly caused by the discrepancy between low family incomes and unaffordable heating bills. High energy bills are caused by high energy prices, bad insulation of buildings, but also bad consumption habits and outdated equipment. One of the most effective and sustainable ways of decreasing energy prices is by changing consumer habits and improving bad insulation. The latter should be addressed by the retrofitting of old buildings.
In Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, previous construction and heating methods mainly between the 1950s and 1980s did not focus on saving energy and the environment. As a result, a highly inefficient energy use intensified the impact of escalating energy prices on low-income households. The majority of this housing stock needs urgent retrofitting to reduce heating bills and thus reduce energy poverty. In this region, the pre-fabricated multi-story apartment buildings represent in some countries 30% in some more than 70% of all the residential buildings. Energy efficiency retrofits can reduce energy consumption by 40-50%, and lead to direct savings and housing affordability. Furthermore, these retrofits allow low-income families to properly heat their homes, preventing the adverse health effects caused by the cold, dampness, and air pollution.
Habitat for Humanity’s and USAID’s experience shows that awareness among homeowners about this relation between energy efficiency and reduction of heating bills is relatively low and it seems to be difficult to convince the homeowners to invest into retrofitting of their building. Another challenge is that to reach the high percentage of savings on the heating bills you need expensive deep renovation of the buildings and several communities lack the financial resources to make this investment. Profound renovation would also require the existence of a subsidy system that covers part of the costs for the households. A third challenge is that in certain countries in the region, the necessary technology and materials are still not available (underdeveloped markets).
Habitat for Humanity believes that the energy poverty of people living in multi-unit residential buildings in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is the poverty housing issue which affects most people in this region. That is why this is a strategic regard for us. Habitat for Humanity could be instrumental in helping to overcome the first challenge, as it offers a range of services to homeowners associations including awareness raising training on energy efficiency, providing energy audit for buildings and helping to run a tender to select the construction company. As described under article Stakeholder facilitation, we also help homeowner associations to provide financing of such projects. Based on our experience in construction and adult education, Habitat for Humanity can play an important role as an independent actor to convince communities about the importance of retrofitting and to help them design and implement retrofitting projects.
Residential Energy Efficiency for Low-income Households project is one of the many assistance projects supported by the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Since 1992, the American people through USAID have provided a broad range of development programs in Armenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, shifting from an initial humanitarian emphasis to assistance for economic, political and social transition.