On a Friday afternoon after work, Kendra Tramiel, a facilitator for kids with mental health disorders, eases her silver 2010 Honda Insight into the parking lot at Wanlass Park in San Pablo for a break. A small oasis of green in a dense urban maze of highways and asphalt, the park often provides what Kendra calls a “respite” for her and for the families she works with.
Today, one of her clients had an emergency. Everyone is safe now, and Kendra is, as usual, unruffled. But a few minutes to simply sit on a bench and soak up some sun helps her recharge. She has just a short break before she gets back on the road to pick-up a 12-year-old for her STEM and coding class for girls at the local library.
Kendra works for a nonprofit youth services agency in Richmond that serves Contra Costa County families who have kids aged 5 to18 with a mental health disorder. She arranges activities that help the kids reach behavioral goals and other activities that support the families and caregivers who care for them.
Kendra visits her clients and their families every day, driving all over Contra Costa County. “Most of the time we go to their homes and their schools, and we do outings in the community,” she explains. And that part of her job has gotten a lot less stressful since she acquired the Honda Insight, a reliable used hybrid electric vehicle with low mileage (53,400 miles) that saves gas and reduces air pollution.
Kendra qualified to purchase the Insight through a new pilot program run by California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) that helps low and moderate-income drivers buy low-pollution vehicles. The program was created by the Charge Ahead Initiative, legislation also called SB 1275 and authored by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León. It is funded by California’s climate investments.
The Honda Insight follows a series of much less reliable cars. After black smoke started to pour from her old Hyundai a few years ago, Kendra’s dad sold her his 2002 Honda Civic. It was a great car, but between her job and driving her two kids around, she put a lot of miles on it. “I was trying to keep it as long as I could,” she explains. “I did not want a car payment.”
The ARB program aims to reduce pollution by helping low income drivers finance the purchase of clean vehicles. Through the pilot project, which kicked off in June 2016, Kendra was able to get a loan for $8,000 at 8% interest from Travis Credit Union. ARB gave her a grant of $2,500 for the down payment toward the total cost of the $10,500 Insight. Her car payment is a manageable $251 a month.
Financial challenges in the past made getting a car loan nearly impossible. “This is my first ever car payment,” Kendra says. “I am trying to build my credit. I was never in the position to buy a car with a car loan.
“I was in school and working part-time and I would have really struggled to have a car payment earlier,” she adds. “My money was going to car repairs. I recently went full-time and got a promotion, so I can handle the car payment now, but before I heard about the grant I was going to have to wait.”
While more than 100 people have expressed interest in participating in the pilot, only a few have qualified so far, according to Vivian Rahwanji, a program director at Community Housing Development Corporation of North Richmond, which implements the pilot program via a grant from ARB.
To qualify, participants need to have incomes less than 400% of the federal poverty level, which translates to $97,200 for a family of four, $64,880 for a family of two and $47,200 for one. Through the pilot, 100 people in six Bay Area Counties—Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz—will be able to acquire clean vehicles over the next three years.
Born and raised in Richmond, Kendra says her parents inspired her to do the kind of work she does. “My mom’s a retired nurse and my dad worked in the schools,” she says. “I saw their helping and giving professionally. When I started community college that’s what I was drawn to.”
She loves her job and how her car helps her reliably help her clients. “It feels good to be in a position to have a newer car and be able to keep up the maintenance,” she says.
Her hybrid has other important benefits. “In the Richmond area,” she says, “there is so much smog. We are near a refinery and we have a lot of cars on the road. We do need cars, so we need them to be cleaner.”
She hasn’t been tracking fuel savings yet but the EPA estimates the Insight’s mileage at 41 MPG, and Carbon Footprint’s calculator estimates its carbon footprint to be about one quarter less than her old Civic’s. Many times in the past she hasn’t been able to fill up her tank all the way but now she can.
She appreciates that the Insight is much quieter than her previous cars. The engine stops automatically when the car is stopped. It has GPS. It’s roomier. It has a windshield wiper in back. Her dashboard lets her know if a tire is low. And, she adds, reaching down to turn up Mariah Carey, “It has a great CD player and I’ve never had a car with CD player before.”