The City of Austin, TX has launched a community grant program to increase equitable access to the area's green jobs for youth and adults of color.
The initiative will disperse an undisclosed number of grants between $10,000 and $50,000 each to various applicants, which can include community-based organizations, trade associations, technical training-education institutions and potential green job employers. The grants will be invested in Austin's communities of color where 20% or more of the population earn 200% or less of the federal poverty level.
By investing in these communities with a systemic approach, the city hopes to increase household financial resilience, prevent displacement and boost the city's overall climate resilience, according to Daniel Culotta, with the City of Austin's innovation office. The program is a cross-collaboration between the economic development department and the innovation, equity and sustainability offices.
The effects of climate change disproportionately affect people of color and lower income communities, Culotta told Smart Cities Dive. In Austin, the most underserved communities are made more vulnerable to climate change due to "historic underinvestment, limited resources, growth pressures, health inequities and low paying jobs."
But opportunities can be created out of those constraints, he said. Green jobs — "positions that result in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities" — are growing rapidly. The positions can fall within a number of different industries, including energy, construction and food production, according to Culotta.
Workforce development and the green jobs sector have historically not been very diverse or equitable, he said. The City of Austin wants to change that. "We want to make sure everyone has access to those opportunities, especially those that will be most affected by climate change," he said.
Austin has previously focused on "green technology," but they have not looked at employment opportunities within the green jobs sector. Through the grant program, the city aims to identify green job opportunities and better understand the local green jobs sector. They hope to learn where green jobs are in Austin, the different training and development pathways to access these jobs and the organizations that are prepared to support diversity and inclusion goals.
The city will target adults of color who are interested in transitioning from low-wage jobs to more skilled, higher paying green jobs. The mean hourly wages for green energy sector jobs pay 8%-19% more than the national average wage, according to The Brookings Institution. And for entry-level jobs, they found a $5 to $10 per hour pay premium compared to entry-level jobs in other sectors.
The grant program is just one part of the city's overall efforts to fight climate change. Earlier this month, the Austin (TX) City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring a climate emergency, marking the country's first southern city to pass such a measure.
Similar to the green jobs grant program, the climate emergency resolution is a cross-collaboration across departments. The details of the climate campaign aren't final yet, but could involve multiple partners including Austin Energy, Austin Transportation Department and Austin Resource Recovery. Solutions that involve multiple departments or stakeholders will likely continue as Austin and other cities amp up their efforts against climate change, Culotta said.
City staff this week also filed a memo recommending the city hire its first chief climate resilience officer to lead community-wide climate efforts.