As we fly toward the fall season, Energy Efficiency for All, a joint project between the National Housing Trust, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Energy Foundation, and Elevate Energy, will continue to promote the benefits of home weatherization and the crucial place that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) plays in ensuring that affordable homes are well-maintained, comfortable, and safe for families struggling to meet their basic needs on a limited income. The goal of the WAP program is to reduce the energy costs of a home by increasing the energy efficiency of that home. Weatherization measures typically include installing insulation, reducing air leaks, and repairing or replacing heating and cooling units. While many WAP agencies have focused on single-family homes, EEFA is showing that addressing energy inefficient and aging multifamily buildings provides a greater benefit to families in rental housing who are more likely to spend a large portion of their income on utility bills.
WAP continues to be extremely popular even when some elected officials openly express hostility toward safety net programs. In March 2018, Congress approved a $23 million increase to the WAP budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. In September, Congress passed a bill that increased WAP funding by an additional $6 million for FY 2019.
To be clear, even the increased level of funding for WAP does not come close to meeting the need for energy efficient retrofits of aging homes. Therefore, utility companies need to reinvest some of their profits into customers’ homes. Weatherizing homes plays a crucial role in ensuring parity in home energy costs as low wage earners such as day laborers, teachers, and child care providers tend to live in older buildings. Aging building systems and deferred maintenance all leads to higher utility bills. One missed electric bill can propel a family into crisis. One Roof, a homelessness organization in Alabama, revealed that more than 70 percent of calls on their crisis line are related to clients looking for utility bill assistance. The problem is so great that the organization has had to prioritize their assistance for people facing immediate eviction because of unpaid debt, including money owed on their utility bills.
The individual benefits of weatherization are immediate. Installing energy efficiency measures reduces residents’ energy burden and makes homes healthier and more comfortable to live in. There are also societal benefits to weatherization. Energy efficient homes reduce pollution, asthma-related visits to the emergency rooms, and the burden on the energy grid in over-populated areas. In some places, state utility programs supplement federal funding, meaning that more homes can receive the assistance that they need.
NHT and EEFA’s work with utilities and weatherization agencies has resulted in more funding for more families living in affordable housing. EEFA has secured nearly $500 million in new funding for efficiency upgrades. As the work moves forward we will raise awareness around weatherization and healthy building materials. An important component of home health is not only making homes more energy efficiency, but also using healthier materials to reduce exposure to indoor toxins. As temperatures drop, keep in mind that many families will struggle to keep their homes warm this winter. WAP is a small but mighty program that does good work.
For more information on weatherization and its relation to affordable housing, please contact NHT Public Policy Associate Raisa Johnson.