Miami-Dade County is moving to cut all ties with a tax assessment district that helps finance energy-efficient home improvements and is administered by Ygrene, whose financial problems left some homeowners in highly publicized binds.
The commissioner who is championing the pullout says the improvement financing vehicle is actually making consumer loans.
The measure by Kevin Marino Cabrera would sever county ties with the Green Corridor Property Assessment Clean Energy District, whose seven board members represent the seven municipalities that created the county-approved tax assessment district in 2012. Since the district is administered by California-based Ygrene Energy Fund Florida LLC, that would cut any county link with Ygrene.
An October 2022 Federal Trade Commission order said Ygrene deceived consumers about the potential impact of its financing and that it unfairly placed liens on homes without consent. Ygrene agreed to create a $3 million fund to free such customers from liens.
A county committee that last week voted 3-2 to move the measure to an Oct. 3 commission vote heard that the clean energy district administered by Ygrene is one of four sources of a Property Assessed Clean Energy Program (PACE) that uses tax assessments to repay loans for clean energy improvements. The other three programs would not be affected by a county vote.
Nor, it turns out, would the communities that are linked to the Green Corridor district. Only unincorporated areas in Miami-Dade would be involved.
Philip Stoddard, a former South Miami mayor who has been a Green Corridor board member since the district’s outset, gave the commission’s Infrastructure, Operations and Innovations Committee his perspective before commissioners spoke on the item.
“Because Ygrene was the first PACE program, it encountered all the problems first. It also worked them out first,” Mr. Stoddard said. “It’s gotten the most press, both good and bad. Under the board’s guidance, it’s been the leading program in consumer protection. No other PACE program has a local oversight board that requires so many consumer protections. But the process has had its bumps,”
Mr. Stoddard acknowledged, pointing to financing issues that commissioners later highlighted.
“Most recently, Ygrene had a four-month funding pause because its bridge funding partners couldn’t keep up with the Fed’s rapid rate increases – and recall, those rapid rate increases killed some large banks that were very well run,” said Mr. Stoddard. “Ygrene has a new bridge funding program in place that will guarantee that the short-term financing won’t disappear.”
The newest Green Corridor board member, current South Miami Commissioner Steve Calle, says the next aim of the organization is to use the PACE financing vehicle to pay for sewer connections to bridge infrastructure the gap from the sidewalk to homes to replace septic tank service, which remains prevalent in some areas of the county. He joined Mr. Stoddard in calling for the county committee to defer action.
But Mr. Marino Cabrera, waving newspaper clippings highly critical of Ygrene, called for immediate action, not deferral, though he also said he would talk with all interested parties before the commission vote. Only Mr. Stoddard and one other person, he said, had spoken with him so far.
“This is not blowing up the PACE program,” Mr. Marino Cabrera said of his resolution. “This is making sure that a provider that exploited residents – basically government sanctioned exploitation – doesn’t do it again. The budget for the Green Corridor is three million bucks to do supposed oversight. I don’t know what kind of oversight they’re doing because clearly they didn’t do a very good job…. People literally got screwed.”
Speaking of the financing mechanism, Mr. Marino Cabrera said, “I know they don’t like to call them loans because that’s exactly what they are. If you borrow money and have to pay it back, that’s called a loan.” Then, he said of Ygrene, “when it’s time to pay they (homeowners) were told they had pulled out of Florida…. They left a bunch of people, and that’s not right.”
No representative of Ygrene spoke at the committee hearing.
The Green Corridor board that Ygrene administers permits the firm to operate in all communities that the board represents. These include the City of Miami, Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami, Coral Gables and Miami Shores. The county action would not affect the Green Corridor’s operation under Ygrene’s administration in those communities, just in unincorporated Miami-Dade County. Three other PACE organizations can also do financing in those areas, although Mr. Stoddard pointed out that the other three have no local oversight boards.
In arguing against the measure that eventually passed in committee, Commissioner Raquel Regalado argued for retaining the local oversight board.
“I know we were all upset when Ygrene had its funding problems because they left people in the lurch and I think we need to find a solution for that,” Regalado said. But she questioned elimination of the oversight board. “I don’t want to leave people without a place to go,” she said. “The other providers don’t have this vehicle.”
Source: Miami Today