Amid Affordability Crisis, DC Housing Must Transition Off Costly Fossil Fuels

Jean Stewart
Sierra Club, District of Columbia Chapter
Committee on Housing Oversight Hearing
DC Department of Housing and Community Development
Monday, February 15, 2024


Thank you, Councilmember White, for the opportunity to testify today about the performance of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Housing Production Trust Fund. My name is Jean Stewart, and I am a member of the Energy Committee for the DC Sierra Club. The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest, largest and most influential environmental advocacy organization. We have 3,000 dues-paying members in DC, and we work to reduce greenhouse emissions, expand sustainable transportation, reduce waste and ensure safe and clean water.

Councilmember White, thank you for your leadership in introducing, passing, and funding the Greener Government Buildings Act,[1] which mandates that buildings owned or financed in significant part by the District government must adhere to net zero energy standards. My testimony today concerns DHCD’s work to ensure compliance with the Greener Government Buildings Act in District-financed affordable housing.

Transitioning off Fossil Fuel Combustion in Affordable Housing

The Greener Government Buildings Act (GGBA) requires publicly funded projects to maintain net-zero energy compliance, as defined in District law. In short, projects must be energy efficient, use all-electric building systems, and use renewable energy sources to meet the building’s annual energy demand. Covered projects include new and substantially improved construction that receive at least 15% of their funding from District sources. This includes affordable housing funded by DHCD and the Housing Production Trust Fund. Emergency legislation set to expire later this year exempts District-financed affordable housing from this requirement if the District commits to funding the project before March 31 of this year.[2]  The Sierra Club looks to the Committee on Housing to ensure that agencies comply with the GGBA, or to seek appropriate amendments to it, rather than exempting projects from requirements through emergency legislation.

The District faces an affordable housing crisis, and the role of the Housing Production Trust Fund is to address this crisis and encourage the development of more affordable housing at all levels of affordability. Net-zero energy compliance can add to the upfront costs in rehabbed buildings. In newly constructed buildings, net-zero requirements sometimes add minimal additional costs, and in some cases add no cost. If there is an increased cost, it can be recouped through lower energy bills from highly energy efficient buildings, with payback periods varying, especially for renovated buildings. The District is transitioning away from fossil fuel to provide energy to buildings, and affordable housing should be first in line for the health benefits and lower utility bills from highly efficient net-zero buildings. As more households transition off the gas system, the per-customer cost of paying for the gas system will increase because there will be fewer gas ratepayers to shoulder the fixed costs of distribution. Funding for electrification for affordable housing will protect the low- and moderate-income residents who live there from these increased costs. Project Pipes has an upfront cost of $5 billion and total cost up to $14 billion for ratepayers when corporate profits and interest payments are added. Residents of affordable housing should not be left paying the multi-billion dollar bill for our increasingly obsolete gas infrastructure.

It is important that planning for transitioning off gas not be left solely to the utilities, which answer to their shareholders, not to DC residents. Washington Gas, in particular, is resistant to the transition off fossil fuels and has presented farcical plans for mixing fracked gas with gas from sources like animal manure and hydrogen, fuel sources that are in minimal supply but have maximal costs. DC’s clean energy future should be left in the hands of DC residents, not corporations headquartered in Chicago or Calgary.


Thank you again, Councilmember White, for the opportunity to provide testimony today. The Sierra Club believes DHCD is providing strong leadership. But amid the severity of the climate crisis we face, and the other pressing environmental issues in the District, we believe DHCD needs to do more to ensure that new District-financed affordable housing complies with the GGBA, and does so in a way that protects low-income District residents from footing the bill for our increasingly obsolete gas infrastructure.  

[1] Law L24-0306, Effective from Mar 10, 2023 Published in DC Register Vol 70 and Page 003537

[2] D.C. Code § 6-1451.02(a)(3)(C) requires all District-financed residential projects of a certain size to maintain net-zero energy requirements, emergency legislation codified at D.C. Code § 6-1451.02(a)(3)(C)(i) exempts District-financed affordable housing from this specific requirement if the District commits to funding it before March 31, 2024.