New Era knocks on doors for SmartRegs in Boulder

BOULDER– Progressive political activist group New Era Colorado took to the streets this weekend here to gather signatures from the student community in support of proposed regulations that would force rental properties in Boulder to lower energy usage through efficiency upgrades.

New Era on the job in Boulder

In 2008, the Boulder City Council requested that staff develop a plan to update the Housing Code and Rental License program in order to improve energy efficiency. Staffers came up with a series of proposed regulations – SmartRegs – for rental properties here.

“The proposed code would benefit renters by decreasing energy costs while increasing comfort,” said Boulder Energy Sustainability Coordinator Yael Gichon. “The financial burden rests on the landlords so we are facing resistance from some landlords.”

The upgrades would include adding insulation, fixing air leaks, replacing outdated furnaces or putting in energy-efficient appliances such as programmable thermostats and water-saving shower heads. The estimated cost to landlords for each property ranges from $675 – for apartments – to $2,900 – for single-family homes.

After the 2006 Climate Action Plan – an adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in Boulder – the city’s overall goal is to reduce city output to 94,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2012.

Although rental houses comprise about half of the city’s housing stock, landlords have questioned why they’ve been singled out for regulation.

“We are looking at rental houses because the normal economic incentive of lowered energy usage is not there,” said Gichon. Efficient single-family homes save owners cash every month and hike the re-sell value of homes.

Although regulations for energy-efficiency in houses exist in other cities, Boulder would be setting a new precedent by requiring retrofits on all rental properties even if they weren’t coming in for permits.

To offset costs, the city is offering assistance programs funded partly through a city carbon tax set in the 2006 Climate Action Plan and through funds garnered from the federal Recovery Fund Act.

According to Gichon, the city expects SmartRegs to boost the Boulder economy by expanding the market for energy-efficiency installations in the Boulder area, creating business for the construction industry, which was the hardest hit sector in the recession.

Last week, the city presented two surveys, one for renters and another for landlords, on the SmartRegs website asking members of both communities how they felt about the proposed regulations. The city will use the information compiled to help determine the potential new rules.

City staffers, however, worried that student renters would not hear about or respond to the survey online, while landlords, who would be more likely to follow local news, would be over-represented.

That’s when New Era Colorado decided to step in.

“The vast majority of young people are renting and they’re paying utilities… we think [SmartRegs] is what they want,” said editor for New Era News Shad Murib. “This is a fight young people are willing to have with their landlord.”

New Era Colorado is a progressive non-profit organization devoted to getting young people involved in politics.

“We make it sexy and we make it fun,” said Murib describing New Era.

On Sunday, around 40 to 50 youngish people gathered together as the Renters with Benefit$ Street Team to canvass university hill and collect 20 signatures each from renters in support of the regulations.

The group met in the afternoon just off downtown Pearl Street. While baselines bumped from speakers set up beside the New Era bus, volunteers gathered materials and took directions.

After listening to rallying cries for SmartRegs from New Era members and from city council members Lisa Morzel and Crystal Gray, New Era volunteers hopped a bus to the hill and set off into the streets in pairs.

New Era volunteer Rebecca West, 21, a psychology student at CU, said the petition drive was a success.

“We came out today because we care… I feel good about doing it.”

Watch the video.

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