Better Buildings Program San Jose

Location: Hillview-TOCKNA community in San Jose, California

Seed Funding: $750,000—a portion of Los Angeles County's $30 million funding

Target Building Types: Residential (single-family)

Learn More:

Read program design story

View Presentations:

Residential Energy Efficiency Solutions Conference


San Jose State University Urban Studies Program

Energy Upgrade California

Quality Conservation Services

Sacred Heart Community Service

GRID Alternatives

City of San Jose Housing Department

Boys & Girls Smythe Clubhouse

Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church

San Jose Leverages Partnerships to Improve Low-Income Households' Energy Efficiency

Since May 2011, Better Buildings Program San Jose (BBPSJ) and its community partners have offered affordable energy efficiency home upgrades to low-income families in the Hillview-Tully, Ocala, Capitol, and King Neighborhood Association (TOCKNA) community in San Jose, California. Seventy percent of the neighborhood's residents are Hispanic, and according to statistics from San Jose State University Urban Studies Program, 29% of the Hillview-TOCKNA community's households have more than seven people under one roof.

BBPSJ, a sub-grantee to Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partner Energy Upgrade California, was created as a pilot program with a targeted geographic focus on the Hillview-TOCKNA community from May 2011 to September 2012. The pilot program serves as a model for other energy efficiency upgrade programs with limited budgets looking to reach low-income populations. Targeting a single community for a limited period of time helps reduce program costs by allowing staff to focus their resources. Leveraging partnerships and resources while gaining traction by collaborating with local organizations helps drive demand.

Driving Demand: Grassroots Marketing Utilizes Local Organizations
Financing: Bringing Together Various Existing Resources Gets Services to Local Residents
Workforce Development: Events Share "Green" Education and Career Training Opportunities

Grassroots Marketing Utilizes Local Organizations

Because BBPSJ was working with a limited budget and targeting a finite service area for which large-scale advertising is not effective, the pilot program implemented a grassroots campaign by joining forces with a local church and nonprofit group. BBPSJ further saved on overhead costs when Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church lent its office space free of charge to program officials. BBPSJ staff used the space for meetings with homeowners to discuss residents' upgrade options and schedule home energy assessments. Additional events were held at a Boys and Girls Club.

The pilot program engaged residents through door-to-door canvassing, presentations at neighborhood meetings and local schools, program announcements in church bulletins, participation in community events, yard sign campaigns, and letters sent to offsite property owners.

Bringing Together Various Existing Resources Gets Services to Local Residents

Although all San Jose residents were eligible to purchase Basic and Advanced energy efficiency upgrade packages offered by the statewide Energy Upgrade California program, the packages' upfront costs (as much as $2,500) made them a hard sell to Hillview-TOCKNA's low-income residents. To ensure all residents could achieve energy savings and an improved comfort level, BBPSJ collaborated with various community organizations and the city's housing department to offer no-cost home repair assistance and affordable energy efficiency upgrade services.

"It is good to know that the city has implemented a program that focuses on the betterment of the East Side community. I am glad that two angels knocked on my door to offer me energy efficiency and solar power. I am extremely happy with my tank-less water heater and solar system."
-- Angela Rios,
Resident and Program Participant


Community ties also helped expand the reach of existing financial assistance to Hillview-TOCKNA's low-income residents. According to program officials, initial funding didn't cover the full costs of home energy assessments or efficiency upgrades for all Hillview-TOCKNA low-income residents, so the group fostered relationships with local organizations already offering low- or no-cost energy efficiency assistance in San Jose and brought them to Hillview-TOCKNA residents.

For example, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has a Moderate Income Direct Install Program that provides free home energy assessments and weatherization services to income-qualified residents of single-family and multifamily homes and common areas. After learning about the program, BBPSJ worked with PG&E's local contractor, Quality Conservation Services, to implement the program locally. In lieu of upfront costs, participating Hillview-TOCKNA residents paid a utility goods charge in the form of a monthly fee on their gas bills. BBPSJ and Quality Conservation Services also offered an Energy Savings Assistance Program with more extensive services, while Sacred Heart Community's free Weatherization Assistance Program was made available to Hillview-TOCKNA residents.

Most recently, BBPSJ collaborated with the City of San Jose Housing Department's Housing Rehab and Repair Program, which offers grants of up to $6,500 to install energy efficiency measures, as well as up to $15,000 to repair leaking roofs, electrical problems, and plumbing issues. In addition, the program offers loans of as much as $150,000 with 0% interest, based on eligibility. In collaboration with the city's program, BBPSJ's pilot offset the cost of certain energy efficiency measures installed through the program by offering an additional $1,500 grant per customer.

Events Share "Green" Education and Career Training Opportunities

BBPSJ held four events featuring presentations by local organizations, trade schools, adult educations centers, and vocational academies that had courses available on "green" career paths. The events, all offered at no cost to residents, informed the Hillview-TOCKNA community of the different types of education and workforce training available to them. More than 60 job seekers attended each event, held at community-based locations such as a local Boys & Girls Club, high school, and adult education center.


Paul Prange
Project Manager

U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program