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North Hills Monthly

Weatherization Help Available for Low-income Families and Seniors

Aug 31, 2015 11:37AM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Now is the time to start thinking about weatherizing your home. Sealing air leaks with insulation and caulk can save money on energy bills, but problems sometimes arise in which homeowners face unmanageable costs, leading to even bigger problems. Those who are elderly or low-income may be eligible to take advantage of a federally funded program that provides homeowners and renters with no-cost weatherization services.

Program Administrator and Communications Officer Andrew Shull of ACTION-Housing explained that it’s important for homeowners and renters to request an application immediately, because work is processed on a first-come, first-served basis. “Weatherization helps reduce energy costs and can increase home comfort,” he said, noting that in addition to the Weatherization Assistance Program, in the winter, ACTION-Housing also provides crisis heating services through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). “Eligible homeowners and renters can receive emergency furnace repairs and replacements, saving vulnerable individuals and families from losing heat. All of these services are provided at no cost to our clients.” ACTION-Housing serves Allegheny, Washington and Greene counties.

But what about families that aren’t quite low-income enough? Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh (HFHGP) recently established a partnership with the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) to help these people avoid falling through the cracks. The new program, in which all repairs are completed through a contractor and financed through a low-interest loan with PHFA, makes it easier for homeowners who aren’t eligible for low-income assistance to take care of costly repairs, including roof replacement, energy-efficient windows and doors, energy-efficient heating/cooling systems, air sealing, insulation and ductwork.

“Repairs save homeowners money on their utility bills and can help improve the air quality, safety and longevity of the home,” said Daniel Webb, manager of family services for HFHGP.

According to Webb, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency is a nonprofit organization created by the Pennsylvania Legislature to help make homeownership more affordable for Pennsylvanians. “By partnering with the PHFA, Habitat for Humanity can serve more families,” he said. “The PHFA allows us to offer a loan product that’s below market rate, which is why we chose to work with the Home Energy Efficiency Loan Program, otherwise known as HEELP. We are a local administrator for this program.”

HEELP offers loans between $1,000 and $10,000 for specific energy efficiency repairs at a fixed rate of one percent for 10 years with no prepayment penalties. “The most a family would pay would be $88 a month over the life of the loan for a $10,000 loan,” said Webb, adding that approval guidelines are broader than those of traditional bank loans. “This is for a low-income family that owns a house but can’t get financial help from anyone else. Once they are approved, we solicit bids, choose a contractor, prioritize the work schedule, and supervise the job site to make sure that everything is being done correctly.”

Webb added that Pittsburgh’s aging population often needs help making ends meet. “When faced with the choice to either go into debt, drain your savings or leave the problem alone, the only option may be to leave it,” he explained. “But in the long run, this can end up forcing a family to leave the home, and wherever they end up will be even more expensive. It’s more affordable to have the repair done and done well and preserve the home for the family that’s there.”

To apply for weatherization help, contact ACTION-Housing at 412-281-2102 to request an application. Those interested in LIHEAP must apply by filling out the compass application with the Department of Public Welfare. For more information on HEELP loans, call Habitat for Humanity Greater Pittsburgh at 412-351-0512 ext. 10.