With time running out for the state to spend $132 million in stimulus funds for weatherizing low-income homes, officials are changing their strategy. The upshot: Fewer homes will be weatherized, but those that are will receive more energy efficiency upgrades.
The change comes in part at the request of rural weatherization agencies who needed more money than the state had originally allocated per home. In addition, by boosting the amount spent per home the state will be make sure it has used all its federal money by the March 2012 deadline.
North Carolina's weatherization program had originally set the average spending limit per home at $4,000, but the N.C. Energy Office is increasing the limit to $6,000 per home. The agency amended its plan with the U.S. Department of Energy in May.
As a result of the change, an estimated 14,000 homes will be weatherized under the program instead of the 22,000 originally planned.
"The goal is not to leave one red cent on the table," said Rita Joyner, section chief of the state's weatherization assistance program.
Weatherization efforts across the country fell behind schedule as local officials struggled to comply with complex federal contracting rules. In this state, the 30 local nonprofit agencies that handle weatherization rushed to train technicians, while state officials were required to perform audits of the local agencies to make sure they met federal guidelines.
The weatherization aspect of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is part of the Obama administration's strategy to improve the nation's energy efficiency. Weatherization typically involves insulation, duct-sealing and other measures that cut energy waste and can slash utility bills by half for some homeowners.
The federal program allows states to spend up to $6,500 per home on average, but North Carolina designed its weatherization program to spend below the maximum limit allowed. The federal program is limited to people on public welfare or those whose incomes fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which would be $44,100 a year for a family of four and $21,660 for a single-person household.
Not all weatherization agencies will cut back on the number of homes they work on.
Resources For Seniors, the group that weatherizes in Wake County, is still on track to weatherize about 1,000 homes, said Garman Troup, director of housing and home improvement.
Troup said that there aren't enough low-income applicants in Wake County whose homes need $6,000 worth of improvements.
Some Wake homes are in good shape and need no more than $400 in weatherization work, he said. This tends to be true of suburban homes owned by professionals and business owners who qualified for the low-income assistance program because their income fell after they were laid off or experienced other economic setbacks.
"We're getting a lot of relatively new homes that don't need a lot of work," Troup said. "Realtors who haven't sold a house in two years. Some nicer homes, rather than the shacks we're use to, because the homeowner has fallen on hard times."
Plenty to fix up
In rural counties, however, there appears to be no shortage of dilapidated housing. Joyner said one reason the state is raising the spending limit per house is requests from the local weatherization agencies.
Martin Community Action, the agency that handles weatherization in Pitt, Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson, Martin and Beaufort counties in the eastern part of the state, will fix up 1,129 homes instead of the 1,792 originally planned.
Agency CEO Reginald Speight said some homes are in such bad shape they were rejected as "walk-aways" by Martin Community Action technicians. Now the agency will revisit those homes and perform health-and-safety repairs, such as plumbing and electrical, so that the homes are safe enough to weatherize.
"It is really a tough thing to tell a person you don't qualify for a free program because of the status of your living conditions," Speight said.
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