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Community Energy: GJC Celebrates Chinatown Weatherization, Victories Across MA
Established in 2009 by the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC), the pilot CMIs were charged with field testing a variety of community-based strategies to mobilize residents in "hard-to-reach, hard-to-serve" communities to participate in the Mass Save program. The pilots also included a jobs component, with the goal of generating weatherization jobs for local workers with good wages, benefits and career pathways. Green Justice pilot programs launched in Chinatown through CPA and in Chelsea through the Chelsea Collaborative, specially funded for outreach and full guidance for residents through the weatherization process, achieved landmark results in residential weatherization and workforce development. Parallel projects in Lynn and Springfield through Neighbor to Neighbor MA and Alliance to Develop Power identified significant barriers to participation in energy efficiency programs and continue to shape the three-year plans produced by Massachusetts' Energy Efficiency Advisory Council.
Mark Liu, Green Justice Coordinator at Chinese Progressive Association, and Darlene Lombos, Executive Director of Community Labor United, welcome the group to CPA headquarters.
Cross-sector partnerships carry their share of risk and reward - but the money and time invested in the pilots has paid off. "It took a leap of faith, working together," said Mark Liu of the Chinese Progressive Association, "but it's been a great success. With rent going up in Chinatown and a large working class population struggling to pay their bills, we're helping low-to-moderate income residents of Boston cut costs and find good, green jobs."
John Doherty, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District 35, speaks on workforce development.
Economic and workforce development accomplished through the pilot are permanent routes to success that pave the way for further expansion. "Through this program, locals will go on to jobs with Alstom, a responsible contractor," said John Doherty of the Painters Union, "They're getting a career ladder from that allows them to enter union apprenticeship programs and become journey-people on jobs. Most importantly, having learned about each other in the process, we [partners] are able to offer some new jobs - and that makes all the difference."
Jovanna Garcia Soto, Greenspace Organizer at the Chelsea Collaborative, tells it true: immigrant communities are not merely separated from mainstrem society by language barriers, but also by barriers of trust.
The pilots also cleared up misconceptions about community outreach that previously left immigrant and HTR/HTS populations at great disadvantage. When pilots began, "The conversation was language, language - people in hard to reach, hard to serve communities need a community organization because they don't speak English," noted Jovanna Garcia Soto, Chelsea Greenspace Organizer. "Very quickly we realized there was not just language, there was trust. People trust the organizations that have been working with them for years - the Community Mobilizations Initiatives used trust to walk residents through the weatherization process."
Wilfredo Cespedes, member of Neighbor to Neighbor MA, speaks on the GJC's work to close information gaps and tear down ongoing barriers to access.
"We made contact with low-to-moderate income people in Lynn who were poorly served by all levels of government," said Wilfredo Cespedes of Neighbor to Neighbor MA. "Despite mailings from National Grid included with bills statements, these people were truly surprised to learn that a residential weatherization program existed - they'd never seen or understood the programs. After finding out about the weatherization program many of them now want to do it - but preweatherization costs continue to prevent many residents from participating. We want all people to be able to benefit from these programs."
The Green Justice Coalition has declared that addressing ongoing barriers such as preweatherization expenses and a "one size fits all" rebate structure, and irregular, opaque data reporting is a priority moving forward. To this end, GJC has continued to collaborate with the EEAC and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to develop programs that work equitably and transparently for all people.
Prior to GJC's appearance on the scene, such concerns were not even "on the map," and the needs of the Commonwealth's most vulnerable stakeholders unrecognized. The work of the Green Justice Coalition has given voice to low-income communities and communities of color long overburdened by an unsustainable economic disparity and ensure that everyone takes part in the growing, green economy.