California Environmental Justice Alliance

Building Healthy Communities from the Ground up

SOMAH comes to the Central Valley

In California and across the country, working class communities of color face disproportionately large energy burdens. The Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) Program is one example of a successful program counteracting energy debt by providing solar energy—and economic benefits— to low income tenants. The families of Sand Creek Apartments, a 60-unit multifamily affordable housing community located in Orosi, CA, felt the increasing financial strain as more and more of their income went to energy bills. 

In April 2020, as Californians endured the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Self-Help Enterprises (SHE), a nonprofit working with low-income families to build and sustain healthy homes and communities, and Sunrun partnered to bring solar energy to the Sand Creek community via the SOMAH Program. The intention was to deliver long-term sustainable energy solutions and economic relief to the tenants of Sand Creek Apartments.

SOMAH Experience

Lesly Bucio, a resident of Sand Creek, attended the Ribbon Cutting event.  Credit: Saman Qadir

Over 18 months, the Sand Creek community prepared to install the solar energy system through tenant education around the benefits of solar, energy conservation tips and paid job training opportunities.

All residents of a participating SOMAH property are automatically eligible to participate in SOMAH’s paid job training program, including being a part of the solar installation. This is a part of SOMAH’s commitment to local workforce development. Two job trainees assisted in the installation at Sand Creek, including one resident and a trainee from a local job training organization in the Central Valley.

In August 2021, a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the successful installation and permission to operate the 128-kW CEC-AC solar energy system. For residents, the project will provide an estimated savings of $50 per month on their energy bills. In addition, SOMAH’s third-party evaluator estimates that bill credits from SOMAH’s solar energy installations will offset residents’ utility bills by 71-91%. Lesly Bucio, a resident of Sand Creek, reflects that although she was unsure of what having solar panels would mean for her and her family initially, she is now very excited to have them.

“I am a single mother with two children. I work in a warehouse packing peaches seasonally. I feel a lot better having solar and knowing the electric bill will be affordable.” 

In addition to improving financial security for families, the environmental benefits are also something residents value about having solar panels. 

Christian Vasquez and Maria Garcia, Sand Creek residents, with their son.  Credit: Saman Qadir

“My family and I think it’s great to go green, help the environment, and get the savings,” said Christian Vasquez, living at Sand Creek for about five years with his family, including his two-year-old son.

Bring SOMAH to your community! 

If you are a tenant and would like to know if your building qualifies for the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) Program, contact Tyler Valdes at tyler@caleja.org. If you are a property owner or contractor that would like to bring solar to your community, email contact@CalSOMAH.org or call 858-244-1177 ext. 5.