Millions unspent on weatherization for housing units
By JOSH KOVNER
December 19, 2010
Housing advocates, job trainers and home-improvement contractors perked up last year when federal stimulus money flowed in from Washington and turned Connecticut's $2.5 million weatherization program into a three-year, $64 million job-creation machine.
Now, they're still waiting for the full payoff.
After a little more than a year, the state has spent $13.2 million, or about 20 percent of its allotment, and has weatherized about 2,700 housing units, or 36 percent of its goal of 7,500 by 2012.
The funds so far have created the equivalent of 127 full-time jobs, which means about 450 people are drawing a paycheck through the weatherization program. A high percentage of the jobs are part-time.
Housing advocates have been watching the pace of the program carefully.
"There is concern about meeting the time frame'' in which the state must spend the federal funds, said Diane Randall, executive director of the Partnership for Strong Communities.
"The state has a huge portfolio of state-financed housing that needs significant investment,'' Randall said. There hadn't been the resources before, and this is an opportunity to address that housing.''
The state must spend the $64 million by March 31, 2012, or give the remainder back.
Matthew Fritz, one of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's point people on Connecticut's $3 billion stimulus program, said that Rell's office has urged the state Department of Social Services to weatherize more units, hire more workers and allocate the money more quickly. He said that since the summer, there is evidence that the pace has picked up.
"I don't think anyone agrees it's going fast enough,'' Fritz said. "There were entanglements early on [concerning how to apply federal Davis-Bacon wage-and-hour laws and other requirements], but those have generally been overcome.''
As of June, DSS had spent $9.8 million of the funds. By Sept. 30, the latest data available, the figure exceeded $13 million.
"So we had quite a jump over the summer. The program is moving. A good deal of work has been completed and there are a lot of units in the pipeline, queuing up to be done,'' Fritz said.
The housing advocates are looking most closely at the weatherization work being done in state-financed housing complexes for the elderly.
Fritz said that 344 of those units have been weatherized at housing complexes in Naugatuck, Thomaston, Berlin and Cheshire, and that 589 units in Wethersfield, Glastonbury, East Hampton, Putnam, Killingly, Derby and Hamden have gone though energy audits and are being readied for work to start.
But he acknowledged that technical issues, such as getting approval from the U.S. Department of Energy for heat pumps and other materials slated for use in the state-financed housing, initially slowed the pace of that work.
At first, the Department of Economic and Community Development was going to manage the work in the state-financed complexes. The agency received $19 million from DSS and asked for bids from community-based agencies to administer the work.
The arrangement, though, created a more cumbersome bureaucracy, and the state reversed itself. The $19 million was returned to DSS control and DECD withdrew.
"We thought better of having multiple state agencies involved in the same operation,'' Fritz said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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