Money for Weatherization Stimulates Job Creation in NYC

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The federal government is poised to spend five billion dollars making the homes of low income Americans more energy efficient. President Obama says it’s a smart way to stimulate the economy…

OBAMA: And safe the average working family $350 on their energy bills by weatherizing 2.5 million homes.

New York is getting more weatherization money than any other state, and WNYC’s Ilya Marritz reports it’s already stimulating job creation.

REPORTER: Looking for work? Fran Fuselli needs to fill the following positions, as soon as possible:

FUSELLI: We have energy auditors, we have construction managers, we have people that go out there and do outreach.

REPORTER: Fuselli is the weatherization director with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. It’s one of 64 state-approved nonprofit groups that do home weatherization in New York. Earlier this month, they gathered in a conference room in downtown Manhattan for a statewide video hearing.

After the meeting broke up, people stuck around and kibbitzed.

RIEBER: …purchasing new vehicles, hiring new staff…

RICE: …with this money we can hire more people, take our already trained people to train others.

REPORTER: Fran Fuselli says she’ll tackle a five year backlog of buildings ready to be weatherized. She’ll also double her staff, to about 20. She can do it all because the federal government is in effect quadrupling her budget.

FUSELLI: We’re talking about close to ten million dollars.

REPORTER: The infusion of cash is turbocharging a program that’s moved slowly most of its 33 year history. Begun in the aftermath of the 1970s oil embargo, the federal Weatherization Assistance Program was designed to help the poor lower their energy bills. It’s now reached more than six million low income families. 500,000 homes have been weatherized in New York State.

Wendell Rice is a weatherization director in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

RICE: one of the biggest problems with the housing stock in New York City is drafts. these buildings are old. Drafty as all hell.

REPORTER: With hot summers, cold winters, and older-than-average housing stock, New York will get the single biggest funding boost – almost 400 million dollars.

Over the next two and a half years, the state expects to retrofit 45,000 additional homes.

Wendell Rice just hired five men.

RICE: And I’m still not finished. Because I’m going to weatherize about twelve hundred units.

REPORTER: In the next two and a half years?

RICE: No no no. This year right here.

REPORTER: They’ll be doing the kind of job that’s already happening in this apartment building on East 29th Street in Manhattan, managed by Miriam Rubinton.

RUBINTON: This is a 2 bedroom apartment.

REPORTER: In the living room of Apartment 6M, workers have cleared a path to the balcony and laid dropcloths on the floor.

RUBINTON: They’re removing the existing frames on the windows. And they’re replacing those with brand new energy efficient windows.

REPORTER: Victor Singh is the team supervisor.

REPORTER: What is that, like an electric saw?

SINGH: Yes, sawzaw. And he has to spray a little bit WD 40 so you know they’ll cut it smooth.

REPORTER: About 70 percent of this work is being paid for with weatherization dollars. The landlord is responsible for the rest.

In an owner-occupied building, a family of four would have to show income of $45,000 or less in order to qualify for aid.

In rental buildings like this one, the landlord must produce paperwork showing that two thirds of residents have below average income. Even though this is a mixed income building, Miriam Rubinton says it was a challenge.

RUBINTON: We weren’t sure were going to qualify and very luckily all the tenants came out and submitted than information and we did.

REPORTER: Rubinton frets, however, that one of her other buildings, just across the street, may not meet income requirements.

There are concerns as this program ramps up. Boiler repair person and energy auditor are skilled jobs, and there could be a shortage.

In Washington, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a former state auditor, has warned that with so much money sloshing around, there will be rampant opportunities for fraud.

But right now, weatherization directors say they’re happy to put their programs to the test.

For WNYC, I’m Ilya Marritz.