California Environmental Justice Alliance

Building Healthy Communities from the Ground up

California’s largest investment in solar for affordable housing turns 1!

The Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program just celebrated the completion of its first year and paid tribute to all of the advocates who advocated for SOMAH in 2015 at this year’s 2020 Congreso! This program could not have launched at a more important time – as we face a global pandemic, our country grapples with its racist systems, our state is evacuating from several wildfires, and our communities handle record breaking temperatures with the looming threat of brownouts. The effects of climate change and the racist and classist implications of who can afford to run AC, work indoors, and access housing and healthcare have come into sharp relief.

With the realities of this year weighing heavy on our communities, we want to acknowledge the need to build a new future together. Policy and programmatic solutions, like SOMAH, are one piece of pushing for larger, systemic changes. The Solar on Multifamily Affordable, SOMAH, program is the result of 5+ years of advocacy by community members, who showed up to Sacramento to call for affordable, accessible clean energy. SOMAH is an important model for expanding clean energy investments in our communities. Looking forward, SOMAH will provide affordable energy and resilient homes to communities who have been left behind. SOMAH is part of CEJA’s larger energy equity vision of community controlled clean energy and storage that is building resilience in the face of climate disasters.

SOMAH Coordinator Monica de la Cruz of the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) introduces the program at our 2020 Congreso event.

Building Clean Energy into Affordable Housing

The first day that the SOMAH program launched, it was completely filled. The demand for clean energy across the state was loud and clear. We have 380 multifamily buildings in the program, which equates to 82 megawatts of new solar energy on affordable housing properties in California, representing 27% of the program’s total goal of installing 300 MW of solar by 2030. That’s a lot of clean energy coming online! 

26% of these applications are also located in disadvantaged communities (or DACs), benefiting our community members who are most impacted by environmental pollution and a lack of economic opportunity. The work has just begun – with CBO’s like CBE, APEN, EHC, and CEJA leading the outreach efforts of the program, we hope to increase this number and bring more solar to EJ communities. Once constructed, all of these SOMAH projects will benefit Californians for decades by:

  • Providing savings for nearly 32,000 tenant units
  • Directing 90% of the savings directly to tenants
  • Creating over 700 job training opportunities

SOMAH has many more years to look forward to, and we envision moving the program forward in a way that continues to serve the people in our communities, centers and builds the decision making power of our communities, and gives people access to clean energy, lower utility bills, and green job opportunities. In Year 2, we are supporting programmatic changes that would allow us to explicitly prioritize projects in EJ communities in the future and continuing to explore innovative ways to foster community in remote and digital spaces as our world continues to grapple with the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. We are looking forward to seeing more SOMAH projects bring savings and solar job training opportunities to our community members. We are expanding our services to provide support to property managers and resident services to educate tenants about the potential of what SOMAH has to offer. 

Environmental justice doesn’t start or end with one program. The SOMAH program is a piece of the puzzle and an element of building a future vision together where everyone can breathe clean air, have local control of clean, renewable energy, and be a part of a thriving regenerative economy.

Come learn more about the program and connect with communities across California at our next workshop. Email Gwen at gwen@caleja.org for more information about the workshop.