California Environmental Justice Alliance

Building Healthy Communities from the Ground up

SOMAH: Why does Tenant Education matter?

The Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program is uniquely designed to prioritize tenant benefits and opportunities. Unlike similar iterations of previous programs, at least fifty-one percent of the solar energy system must serve tenant energy needs, and property owners are expressly prohibited from recapturing tenant savings through increases in rent, even if the tenants are part of a utility allowance program as a proportion of total income. 

But financial and environmental benefits are not the only ways SOMAH seeks to do right by low-income renters. What sets SOMAH apart is that tenant education must be incorporated into every single project. Historically, the energy system, including renewable energy programs, has been inaccessible, difficult to navigate, and intimidating. SOMAH’s tenant education requirements aim to reduce tenant confusion about what’s happening at their residences, inform tenants about changes to their utility bill after the SOMAH system is turned on, and introduce them to SOMAH’s paid job training opportunities and energy efficiency tips.

The tenant education requirements in the SOMAH program  involve the host customer (either the property owner or solar contractor) signing two affidavits (a legally binding oath), both of which provide meaningful benefits and protections for tenants.  Firstly, tenants must be informed that they are entitled to economic benefits in the form of utility bill savings from the solar energy system serving their electricity loads. Secondly, property owners or contractors must make sure that tenants receive multiple touch points of tenant education materials, and these materials must be provided in the languages that the tenants speak. 

Oftentimes in social justice movements, well-meaning advocates try to represent an oppressed group’s struggles or concerns without directly consulting members of the community. The environmental justice movement itself was started by Black and brown communities who demanded accountability from industry after seeing public health impacts on their community members as a result of their proximity to hazardous waste treatment centers. Communities know what they need to survive and thrive.

If the SOMAH program is to be successful, centering tenant voices and rights is critical. This is why tenant education and empowerment must continue to be at the forefront of the implementation of the SOMAH program. 

If you are a tenant and would like to know if your building qualifies for SOMAH, contact Ayesha Abbasi at ayesha@apen4ej.org. If you are a property owner or contractor participating in the SOMAH program and are unsure about how to fulfill the tenant education requirement, SOMAH staff are available to provide resources, including free training sessions. Please contact tenants@calsomah.org to learn more about our complimentary services.