Delivering energy savings and health benefits to low-income communities
Commerce’s Low-Income Weatherization Assistance program has helped struggling families around the state for 39 years. As available funding continues to lag the significant need for help in keeping housing for low-income Washingtonians affordable, energy efficient and healthy, we’re experimenting with new ways to attack the most pressing problems.
One vexing problem is a “catch-22” issue: many low-income houses, particularly in rural areas, are not eligible for some existing weatherization assistance programs due to their poor structural condition. For example, it isn’t cost-effective to do insulation and other energy efficiency work when the home has a leaky roof or broken windows.
Last session, with grassroots support, the legislature targeted funds for major structural housing repairs in rural communities, making more homes ready for weatherization which leads to immediate and long-term energy cost savings and health benefits. These low-interest Rural Rehabilitation loans of up to $40,000 are available around the state, helping to preserve desperately needed affordable housing stock.
Commerce also partnered with the Department of Health to direct funding toward households with children with elevated lead blood levels. For the first time, these funds enabled basic lead remediation work in houses all over the state with identified sources of lead.
Dubbed Weatherization Plus Health, this innovative approach moved from successful pilot to permanent service this year. The program identifies households with indoor environments that exacerbate asthma and COPD, and provides them with weatherization and indoor air quality improvements, such as dust mite covers, walk-off mats, carbon monoxide detectors, HEPA vacuum cleaners, carpet removal and moisture and mold reduction.
A recent study showed that asthma sufferers accounted for 164,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms and $73 million in related hospitalization costs in Washington. The combined weatherization plus health concept shows very promising potential to improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs.
At Commerce, our mission is strengthening communities, and creativity is one of our core values. Implementing these two innovative solutions – weatherization plus health and rural rehabilitation loans – stretches state dollars to help meet multiple challenges of some of our most vulnerable people. Working together, we’re making a dent in the affordable housing crisis, and making a difference for low-income families.