Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing Program
From Policy to Program
While California leads the country in building and developing clean energy infrastructure, only the wealthiest Californians have historically accessed the benefits of solar energy for their own homes. Centuries of systemic racism, including redlining, resource extraction, and institutional neglect have left most working class communities without the capital, credit, or property ownership to personally invest in, and benefit from, clean energy.
Data shows that almost 90% of California’s 1.3 million rooftop solar installations have been on single-family, owner-occupied homes. Just over 10% of households that have benefitted from reduced energy rates due to solar installations are people living in environmental justice communities — census tracts that are disproportionately burdened by, and vulnerable to, multiple sources of pollution.1
California’s landmark Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program was the response to years of inequitable access to clean energy. The SOMAH program—thanks to years of advocacy by California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) community leaders— is designed to assure equitable access to clean energy and help reduce the energy burden for low-income tenants. Managed by the California Public Utilities Commission and administered by a team of nonprofit organizations, SOMAH will invest $1 billion in rooftop solar with an overall target to install 300 megawatts of generating capacity by 2031. Throughout the state, more than 3,500 properties encompassing nearly 255,000 individual households qualify for incentives under the program.
The SOMAH program would not have been possible without years of environmental justice campaigning by CEJA members and allies. In 2015, CEJA proudly co-sponsored and advocated for the bill that would become SOMAH, AB 693 (Eggman). Communities from across the state gathered to advocate for the bill at the year’s CEJA Congreso. By October of 2015, AB 693 was signed into law, making it the nation’s largest investment of solar on multifamily affordable housing for environmental justice communities and the first one to direct a majority of the savings created through the use of solar energy directly back to renters.
Centering Equity in Implementation
CEJA, alongside the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), and Self Help Enterprises (SHE) are among the grassroots organizations that assist in the community outreach, popular education development, and tenant workshops for the SOMAH program. Our goal is to ensure that the state’s climate investments are properly directed to environmental justice communities. Since the SOMAH Program Administrator consists of statewide energy and affordable housing nonprofits, it has been invaluable to work with a coalition of regionally-based grassroots organizations that uplift the local concerns faced by the communities SOMAH is meant to serve.
Historically, state programs that have centered equity in their plans have often failed to achieve true equity due to a disconnect with the communities they are meant to serve and benefit. CEJA has been deeply involved throughout SOMAH’s design and rollout in order to ensure meaningful outreach to working class communities of color. We are committed to ensuring our communities’ voices are represented in decision-making processes by providing feedback at many levels – from the content used to educate tenants to any changes of program requirements.
The Bigger Picture
Today, Black and brown Californians do not have the same access to solar energy and benefits as do affluent—and often white—residents. The SOMAH program is a critical step toward addressing California’s solar segregation by putting renewable energy right where it’s needed the most – on the rooftops of working class tenants.2
By ensuring that tenants receive bill savings every month through solar credits and providing paid job training opportunities to community members, SOMAH is closing the gap of solar access between working class communities of color and wealthy communities.
SOMAH is a win-win for California by demonstrating that we can meet the challenges of the climate crisis, invest in communities most impacted by industrial pollution, create economic benefits for low-income tenants, and ensure that our renewable energy future benefits all Californians. For our health, homes, and climate wellbeing, low-income communities and communities of color should be first in line for local clean energy and family-sustaining jobs.
How can SOMAH benefit your community?
At least 51% of the system’s electric output must directly offset tenant load, allowing affordable housing residents to receive direct financial savings on their energy bills.
SOMAH promotes workforce development through local paid job training opportunities. These opportunities stimulate job growth and economic development in California communities, and are intended to increase access to the solar industry.
Partner with SOMAH to promote solar to multifamily affordable housing property owners and tenants among your constituents. As partners with the SOMAH program, we can help you learn more about how it works and the benefits it can bring to your community.
SOMAH incentives significantly reduce the cost of installing solar, offering property owners long-term savings on electricity costs for common areas, a hedge against utility rate hikes and reduced carbon emissions. Want to know if your property is eligible? Click here to learn more.
Participating contractors can bring customers into the program and grow their customer base.
Connect with us!
If you are a tenant and would like to know if your building qualifies for the SOMAH program, contact CEJA’s SOMAH Program Manager at SOMAH@caleja.org. If you are a property owner, contractor, or government official that would like to bring solar to your community, email contact@CalSOMAH.org or call 858-244-1177 ext. 5.
Find SOMAH in your community
Explore the SOMAH Partners and Projects Map here.
The state refers to these communities as “DAC’s” or disadvantaged communities. For the SOMAH program, DACs are defined as the 25 percent most disadvantaged census tracts on the current and previous version of CalEnviroScreen, along with the 22 census tracts that have the 5 percent highest pollution score but not socioeconomic data.
Solar segregation refers to the disparity in access to rooftop solar between low-income communities of color and wealthy communities due to systemic racism and inequitable solar policy design. The term is coined by Shalanda Baker in their book, Revolutionary Power: An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition.