Let's Streamline the Weatherization Process

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The typical New York City home wastes 20 to 50 percent of the energy that it uses, but once retrofitted, it can save between $800 and $1,200 per year—a windfall for moderate income families.

Money diverted from the utility bills immediately gets redeployed toward quality food and medication or keeping the dream of home ownership alive.

But retrofitting homes can simultaneously address several issues that plague low-income communities: unemployment, low wages, aging housing, inefficient appliances and poor indoor air-quality that exacerbates costly health concerns such as allergies and asthma.

Basic measures of retrofitting homes such as air sealing makes homes healthier, enables them to retain heated air in the cold weather months and cool air in the warm weather months. Not only does this make homes more comfortable, and cuts utility bills, but it prevents water damage, mold/mildew and discourages rodents and cockroaches. Pests lead to poor indoor air quality and exacerbate health issues such as allergies and asthma.

The work of retrofitting homes also creates employment opportunities for individuals with limited workforce experience and educational achievement. In fact, the Building Performance Institute’s (BPI) nationally recognized certifications, which have set the industry standard for energy efficiency, can be obtained by individuals whose math and reading skills are at the ninth grade level.

Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the nation’s first comprehensive community development corporation, has been implementing this model for the last 30 years. Since the 1980s, Restoration has operated a Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), a federal- and state-funded initiative that weatherizes or retrofits the homes of homeowners and renters whose household income does not exceed 60 percent of Area Median Income. Through this effort, Restoration’s WAP has weatherized 9,200 units of housing, brought $20 million of energy efficiency investment into Central Brooklyn, and created jobs, over the years, for approximately 30 people, nearly all from Central Brooklyn.

More recently, in 2009, Restoration partnered with the Pratt Center for Community Development to pilot Retrofit Bed Stuy Block by Block, an initiative created to engage residents, chosen simply by the block on which they live and regardless of household income, about how to make their homes more energy efficient.

The Center for the Study of Brooklyn recently released its Brooklyn Neighborhood Reports, which indicates that 33 percent of Community District 3 (which includes Bedford Stuyvesant) lives in poverty. A resulting 60 percent of homeowners pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene learned that Bedford Stuyvesant homes are twice as likely to have cracks and holes as the city average. The percentage of households that have mice or cockroaches in them are 42 percent and 45 percent respectively, compared to 22 percent and 29 percent citywide, and the number of children under the age of 4 that are hospitalized as a result of asthma in Bed-Stuy is 40 percent higher than the citywide average.

Energy efficiency services are especially critical in a community like Bedford Stuyvesant, which struggles with high levels of poverty, one of New York City’s oldest housing stocks and the consequential health implications.

Retrofit Bed Stuy Block by Block has shown its capacity to make homes safer and more energy efficient, and the people that live in them healthier, while also creating jobs. To date, nearly 250 units of housing have been retrofitted through Retrofit Bed Stuy Block by Block. The program has created enough demand that one of the contractors with whom Restoration works has expanded her business by hiring a graduate of Restoration’s Green Construction Training Program, a 12-week class that teaches students about the basics of construction through a lens of sustainability.

Restoration just launched HouseLift by Restoration, a fully licensed and insured construction company that will soon be certified to provide energy efficiency services. This Social Enterprise provides quality and responsible construction services, and creates jobs for the community. HouseLift’s first large contract includes the replacement of all of the windows in a 150-unit senior citizens residence that Restoration owns. This contract alone will allow the business to create five to seven full time jobs in the upcoming month.

While the establishment of programs like Green Jobs Green New York has certainly helped scale up programs like Retrofit Bed Stuy Block by Block, there remains work to be done.

Let’s streamline the process. Currently, homeowners must first have their homes audited by a certified contractor in order to determine a scope of work to retrofit the home. Once that scope of work is generated, a suite of incentives are available to assist with financing the work. If we could identify a standard scope of work for Bed Stuy’s relatively uniform housing stock, and do away with the audit process, we could scale up the initiative, thereby making a significant impact on retrofitting the neighborhood’s housing stock, making it safer, healthier, and more energy-efficient, while creating jobs in the process.