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October 5th is Energy Efficiency Day, a day when communities, businesses and governments promote the benefits of saving energy.

It’s also an opportunity to ensure that everyone has access to those benefits–including the 1.7 million low-income New Yorkers who live in affordable multi-family apartment buildings.

Low-income New Yorkers have little control over their energy costs; as renters, they can’t make the building upgrades that deliver the biggest savings, and their landlords may roll utility costs into monthly rents. When utility expenses go up, so do bills and so may rents. For low-income people, even a slight increase in housing costs can mean families must choose between basic necessities like food and medical care.

Ultimately, ever-increasing rents and utility bills can force low-income families from their homes and their communities, with devastating impact to their economic, educational and emotional well-being.

Back in April, Governor Cuomo announced an ambitious plan to make New York more energy efficient. The proposal will help cut the state’s carbon dioxide emissions by 30% in the next seven years and save New Yorkers a projected $7.7 billion on their energy bills. To achieve this, the state proposed to develop innovative solutions within the energy market, train New Yorkers for clean energy jobs, and incentivize efficient design for new buildings. New York also has proposed to spend at least 20 percent of new funding for energy efficiency on programs to help low- and middle-income households have energy efficient buildings and affordable, efficient housing.

These are great steps, but they are not enough. More than one-fifth of low-income New Yorkers live in multifamily housing, which means that the state’s plans must include providing utilities and state agencies with access to adequate funding and incentives to make upgrades on existing buildings.

When building owners get the financing and expertise needed to make energy- and money-saving upgrades, the benefits also go to tenants through stabilized rents and expenses. What’s more, energy-efficient buildings improve overall health and safety.

Over the next few weeks and months, New Yorkers can take several actions to make sure the Governor’s plan benefits more low-income families. Stakeholder forums to discuss energy affordability are being held across the state in October. The general public also can submit their comments on the New York Department of Public Service website. Energy efficiency is not just about the environment–it’s about giving every New Yorker access to a safe, healthy and affordable home.

Valerie Strauss is the coordinator of Energy Efficiency for All New York and the director of policy and regulatory affairs at the Association for Energy Affordability.