Many of Los Angeles's urban poor have bigger concerns than climate change. Nonetheless, the past few years have seen formerly homeless and jobless folks planting gardens, installing solar panels, and working other green jobs as they make upgrades to increase the efficiency of their homes. According to an article in the L.A. Times, green job programming, particularly green construction, is helping scores of citizens get back on their feet while helping to build a more sustainable community.

The story follows some 200 residents from low-income neighborhoods who were previously left out of the green movement. The story says that many "clean-tech businesses are avoiding urban neighborhoods while they pitch green advances elsewhere." Part of the problem is that efficient appliances, hybrid cars, and organic foods are well outside the budget of the people who live in low-income areas. Another is that these products aren't marketed to them or readily available. The Times mentions that it's far easier to find a bag of Cheetos in a poor, urban neighborhood than it is to find a can of tomatoes.

There is tremendous lack of education made available to the people who live in these poor areas, unaware of simple changes they could make to save money while decreasing their carbon footprint. But now contractors are discovering that a high-efficiency furnace in a low-income housing unit is a win-win situation for everyone. Inefficient and unsustainable building choices were not only costing the government money in utility bills (the article mentions an extra $1 billion nationally each year), these choices were creating huge zones of wasted energy and greenhouse gas emissions.

The article goes on to describe several studies conducted at UCLA that found these inner-city areas to be ripe for many green building upgrades. For instance, a huge section of low-income housing in South L.A. offers prime rooftop space for solar panels. Enter the L.A. Conservation Corps, one of a few organizations working to spread the green word. The corps does everything from encouraging recycling to training young adults to install solar panels and de-pollute properties. The organization also helps its members earn a high school diploma.

According to the story, graduates of the L.A. Conservation Corps have certification for such jobs as hazardous waste removal or power plant work. Another group, the California Clean Energy Workforce Training Program, will dedicate some of its $75 million in state grants toward programs targeting low-income urban residents.

The article quotes L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry as saying "Environmentalists and the clean tech industry 'don't realize that they could bring in a whole new demographic that they had never contemplated.'" The story emphasizes the tough struggle in moving from homelessness or poverty into the green job market, which is a competitive field these days, but references successful green job training efforts nationwide and in Canada that target the low-income, urban demographic. 

One example cited by the Times is United We Can in Vancouver, which is a recycling, bike repair, and computer refurbishment program that employs "about 150 low-income residents, including some former fishermen and loggers suffering from addiction or mental illness." 

In Los Angeles, there is also a focus on retrofitting industrial areas. According to the story, a company called Imani hopes to hire local workers to produce "crystalline photovoltaic energy cells." While many of these programs to employ local low-income residents still lack funding, the article mentions that organizations remain hopeful and see the potential of the endeavor.

Green jobs come to the urban poor
Programs help to make low-income housing more efficient; employ local residents.