Apply for New Weatherization Assistance for Multifamily Housing
It is now a lot easier for you and your residents to get federal aid to make units energy-efficient. The economic recovery program enacted earlier this year provided a substantial increase in funding for the residential Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which runs the program, has agreed to prequalify units at HUD-subsidized and LIHTC-assisted multifamily sites for participation in the program.
New Rules Easier on Multifamily Housing
The goal of WAP is to reduce home energy costs of low-income people living in private housing, but it has not always been easy for multifamily sites to participate. DOE's action removes a big paperwork hurdle for residents and managers of multifamily housing. Without the action, each resident would have to go through an independent income-eligibility review before receiving help from WAP.
In late May, DOE issued proposed regulations stating that multi-unit buildings in the public housing, project-based Section 8, Section 202 (elderly), Section 811 (disabled), or the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program will be considered eligible to receive WAP funds without independent income-eligibility reviews of their residents.
Under the proposed regulations, DOE will consider “HUD-Qualified Housing” and LIHTC sites to be prequalified for the weatherization program, which is also targeted to housing based on resident income and rent level. To meet its own program targeting requirements, DOE will accept HUD and LIHTC beneficiary income determinations. DOE believes a large majority of residents in HUD-assisted housing meet WAP's income eligibility requirements.
Major New Funding Set
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provided $5 billion in new funding for WAP. These funds represent the biggest appropriation for WAP in its history. The money is already flowing to state agencies. With the new funding, WAP is expected to increase by 70 percent the number of housing units it assists this year. The Obama administration has said it intends to continue aggressive increases in weatherization assistance in coming years.
Although in the past, WAP administrators have tended to target resources to single-family owner-occupied housing, DOE's new regulations make clear that WAP can and should use its resources in private multifamily rental housing as well. In fact, some states are now setting aside a portion of their weatherization funding for affordable multifamily housing. For instance, Kansas has set aside 25 percent of its allocation to weatherize LIHTC, Section 8, and Section 515 Rural Development sites. Oregon, New York, Florida, and other states have taken similar steps.
How to Take Advantage
Here are three tips to help you take advantage of the new energy-efficiency resources targeted to multifamily housing:
Tip #1: Learn how the program works in your area. In WAP, federal funds are channeled to nonprofit community agencies. Not every agency works the same way. DOE awards grants to state agencies, which in turn contract with local community-action agencies to provide direct weatherization services in their area. Staff or contractors from the local WAP grantee and its partners, not DOE itself, administer the program. (HUD is not involved.) The local agency determines eligibility, so it is best to start your inquiries there. Not every WAP agency has the same procedures, resources, or priorities, so you will have to talk to the local agency directly to find out what it can realistically do for you. Be sure to ask whether your local agency has established preferences for units occupied by the elderly, people with disabilities, and/or families with children.
For a list of WAP grantee agencies and contacts in your area, go to: http://www.waptac.org/sp.asp?mc=what_contacts.
Tip #2: Know the specs. WAP does not treat each unit in the same way. The weatherization program has targets to meet in achieving energy efficiency, so WAP-funded crews begin their work by evaluating each unit for potential areas of energy savings. Todd Nedwick, an authority on the weatherization program, says that all weatherization work must be supported by an energy audit that the local weatherization agency conducts, sometimes with the help of utility companies.
The WAP evaluators will use the audit to recommend specific upgrades in heating, cooling, and electrical systems that are most likely to result in long-term energy savings for the resident. The WAP crew will complete only those improvements. You cannot choose the improvements you would prefer to be completed, says Nedwick. You must agree to all the improvements in writing before the WAP crew can undertake the work.
You can help the audit process by knowing the energy specifications of your existing heating and air systems and water heaters. You can then help WAP set a modification plan and document expected energy savings.
The weatherization program does not allow “undue or excessive enhancement… to the value of…dwelling units.” Weatherization assistance funds support modest repairs and system upgrades, not full-scale rehabilitation projects. The expenditure limit per-unit is $6,500 (after a big increase in ARRA). The WAP agency may expect you to cover some of the cost of the work. However, Nedwick says, to expedite use of economic recovery funds, some states are choosing to waive their existing owner contribution requirements.
Common WAP modifications include:
Sealing air leaks;
Installing low-flow shower-heads;
Installing programmable thermostats;
Upgrading lighting fixtures;
Repairing or replacing space heaters and furnaces;
Repairing or replacing water heaters;
Reglazing windows; and
Installing solar screens.
Tip #3: Notify residents. As an owner or manager, you can initiate and manage the weatherization assistance process on behalf of your residents. However, you need to keep them informed. You must abide by the resident notification requirements in their leases as you would for any other nonemergency maintenance activity. WAP rules bar you from increasing rents because of the weatherization work completed at your site. To prove compliance, you should use a standard resident notification form, like our Model Form: Notify Residents of Weatherization Work, and keep a copy in each resident's file.
EDITOR'S NOTE: DOE's proposed regulatory changes can be found at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-11890.pdf. For more information on WAP, visit http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/weatherization/ and http://www.waptac.org/.
Todd Nedwick: National Housing Trust, 1101 30th St. NW, Ste. 400, Washington, DC 20007; (202) 333-8931 x128; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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