A new Illinois (IL) bill, the Beneficial Electrification Act, would require the installation of electric vehicle (EV) ready parking spaces at all newly constructed and renovated buildings, both residential and commercial. The bill was approved by the Illinois General Assembly’s House Energy and Environment Committee on January 11, 2022.
State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) introduced the bill which would not require the installation of the actual charging stations, rather, the parking spaces would need to be “EV ready,” meaning the installation of the electrical wiring, circuits, and outlets necessary to support a Level 2 charging station. However, if the property has 24 or more parking spaces, the property owner would be required to install a single, fully equipped charging station. One of the major selling points for the bill appears to be its alleged focus on supporting low-income and environmental justice communities (communities that experience disproportionate environmental harm due to socioeconomic and geographic health disparities), but it is yet to be seen exactly how the bill would accomplish this.
Currently, the bill contains an amendment titled the “Electric Vehicle Access for All Program” which is meant to “provide access to electric vehicles to residents in […] environmental justice communities and low-income communities.” The program’s initiatives include a car-sharing program that would allow residents to use electric vehicles that are owned by third parties, a carbon-free commute program to provide greater access to public transportation, and a low-income rebate program that would provide up to $4,000 for those who qualify as low-income at the time they purchase an electric vehicle.
Not surprisingly, the details regarding the construction of EV ready parking spaces are carefully and extensively outlined, while there was significantly less information given to outline the details and expectations of the environmental justice initiatives. Rep. Gabel has already stated she will be trimming down the bill to include only the EV parking provisions. Thus, the vague construction of the “Access for All” amendment may be excluded from the bill altogether.
Illinois has the opportunity to be a leader in the effort towards establishing sustainable environmental policies. However, the current proposed bill, with and without the environmental justice language, has the potential to reinforce socioeconomic, environmental, and health disparities in low-income and environmental justice communities. By allocating the costs of construction and installation to property owners looking to build or renovate, the bill’s EV parking provisions may cancel out any benefit the amendment may provide even if it was included.
It is imperative to understand that in low-income and environmental justice communities there is rarely an abundance of safe and affordable housing. The screening practices used by landlords solidify socioeconomic stratification by eliminating alternative housing options for poor tenants who often do not have credit to rely on or savings to dig into to pay another security deposit. While a tenant in a working-class to middle-class community may not think twice about requesting that their home be kept up to code, tenants in low-income communities may ask for renovations but know—renovations or not—they have nowhere else to go. This places all the power in the hands of the landlords. Imposing tens of thousands of dollars in additional costs to renovation projects could be truly catastrophic for those who already live in hazardous conditions.
The president of the Home Builders Association of Illinois estimated the cost of installing EV ready parking spaces may end up costing up to $5,000 per spot. Requiring the installation of these parking spaces for those seeking to renovate their properties has the real potential to discourage vital renovations in the very communities that the amendment claims to support. For instance, an apartment building in an environmental justice community with six parking spaces would be required to convert all six spaces to EV ready spaces. This could tack on up to an additional $30,000 to the original cost of the renovations. Landlords who do decide to move forward with renovations are unlikely to personally cover the costs of installation. Therefore, the cost of rent at these properties will increase and any amount of rent increase in these communities will make them too expensive for those who are already scraping by.
In addition to a baseline increase in rent, the bill allows landlords to charge additional “reasonable” fees to access the EV parking space that the tenant is later required to equip with the actual charging station at their own expense. Because EV parking spaces will only be of value to those who have electric vehicles, rental properties with EV parking spaces as an amenity will attract those with the means to attain an electric vehicle—those from a more affluent socioeconomic class.
Although the amendment would allow for low-income earners to get a rebate when purchasing an electric vehicle, the rebate amount (up to $4,000 for a new electric vehicle under $45,000, or a used electric vehicle under $35,000) does not offset the cost of the vehicle enough to make it a feasible purchase for most low-income earners in Illinois. The amendment certainly does not support those living in poverty.
While EV legislation is still a novel development, preliminary research analyzing similar laws implemented in California depicts an inequitable outcome. EV access trends in California make clear that well-intentioned, reactionary public funding policies are not enough to address these disparities. This is because the funding for charging stations is approved in response to an increase in EV ownership in the given community rather than as a means to encourage and support communities in the initial transition.
If the goal of the Beneficial Electrification Act is to promote greener lifestyles that protect Illinoisians from environmental harm, the General Assembly should concretely and definitively implement proactive provisions for addressing the inevitable financial burdens, environmental harm, and displacement of our most vulnerable communities. To accomplish this, the State must be willing to preemptively invest the necessary financial resources to even out the playing field.
First and foremost, the costs of construction and installation of EV parking spaces in low-income communities should be funded by the state to help ensure that the necessary renovations are made and so that landlords do not pass the cost to tenants. Approval for public funding of these parking spaces cannot be contingent on the present rate of EV ownership in communities as this would likely exclude the most disadvantaged Illinoisans. Additionally, the state should create a program where landlords in low-income communities are able to apply for public funding to cover the cost of the electric vehicle installation instead of covering the cost themselves, making it more likely that landlords will complete necessary updates without raising rent.
Second, because it is foreseeable that EV parking amenities will increase property values and attract buyers and renters who can afford electric vehicles, the bill should prohibit rent increases correlating to EV parking access. This could help minimize environmental gentrification by maintaining the current–albeit inadequate–standard of housing affordability.
Lastly, to account for the financial barriers to EV ownership, the bill should allocate significant resources to make EV ownership a reasonable reality to those without access to lines of credit or large sums of cash. Programs that buy back or give credit to those switching from a traditional car to an electric vehicle could make EV ownership more accessible. Another alternative would be to increase the EV car-sharing options in lower-income areas, so even if owning an EV is not within your budget EV car sharing would a better alternative than buying a cheap, old gas-guzzling car for lower-income individuals.
Andrew Adams, New buildings may soon be required to support electric vehicle charging stations, The State J. Reg., (Jan. 13, 2022), https://www.sj-r.com/story/news/politics/government/2022/01/13/new-rules-electric-vehicle-charging-may-coming-illinois/6513268001/, [https://perma.cc/N4G3-X6N5].
Electric Vehicle Charging Act, H.B. 3125, 102nd Gen. Assemb. § 25(3) (Ill. 2021), https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=&SessionId=110&GA=102&DocTypeId=HB&DocNum=3125&GAID=16&LegID=132049&SpecSess=&Session=, [https://perma.cc/3TPU-GMMQ].
H.B. 3125 § 20.
What Does An Environmental Justice Community Even Mean?, Foresight Design Initiative (July 19, 2017), https://www.foresightdesign.org/blog/2017/7/19/xcd8aq95i73fy933hw4ppjappv346t#:~:text=How%20do%20we%20define%20an%20%E2%80%9Cenvironmental%20justice%20community%E2%80%9D%3F&text=The%20term%20describes%20situations%20where,to%20persistent%20environmental%20health%20disparities, [https://perma.cc/4T8P-8F8H].
H.B. 3125 § 30(a).
H.B. 3125 § 30(c).
Grace Kinnicutt, Illinois House panel advances requirements for electric-vehicle charging at new, renovated buildings, The News-Gazette, (Jan. 12, 2022), https://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/politics/illinois-house-panel-advances-requirements-for-electric-vehicle-charging-at-new-renovated-buildings/article_d63c7864-086f-5ef3-b57d-869840471833.html, [https://perma.cc/HTC5-WG7T].
Matthew Desmond, Evicted 89 (Arnold Rampersad & David Roessel eds., 1st ed. 2016).
Adams, supra note 1.
H.B. 3125 § 25(1).
H.B. 3125 § 40(a).
H.B. 3125 § 30(c)(4).
Chih-Wei Hsu & Kevin Fingerman, Public electric vehicle charger access disparities across race and income in California, 59, 65 (2021), https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0967070X20309021?token=370DBAC75A718EED4F9F8E3E5471C2760199B4978F02C5FA75744CF5ADCFB4CEF2626A2A1926FB0119F1AB4817F8D669&originRegion=us-east-1&originCreation=20220130023720 [https://perma.cc/5HXP-UEJX].