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Ora D. Ballard, or Ms. Ballard as she is known at Magnolia Court, is a recent recipient of weatherization improvements.

Federal stimulus boost ramps up weatherization improvements, helps low-income residents

by Bob Spoerl
Oct 12, 2010

Magnolia Court

Bob Spoerl/MEDILL

Weatherization funds provide 428 new windows at Uptown property Magnolia Court.

Ora D. Ballard, 81, is anemic, which means she often feels cold.  She keeps a blanket by her bed during the winter time.  

The toothpick-thin great-grandmother has lived in the Magnolia Court Apartments, 4878 N. Magnolia Ave., in Uptown, for 19 years.  Because of last year’s federal stimulus package, which included a $5 billion investment in state Weatherization Assistant Programs, Ballard had drafty windows in her Section 8 apartment replaced this summer.  The new windows help make her apartment more energy efficient. 

Illinois received $242 million in weatherization funds under the federal stimulus program, more than all but five other states.  Every state in the nation receives a portion of the $5 billion weatherization money. Individual states choose the criteria for deciding who qualifies for the funds. In Illinois, for example, an individual’s annual income cannot exceed $21,660 to qualify.  The income moves up the more family members in a household. 

In Cook County, the nonprofit Community Economic Development Association administers weatherization funds.  John Hamilton, the director of the association, said the association has tripled its productivity since the stimulus.  The association is the largest of its kind in the nation and has been operating since 1976, when the government started distributing money for weatherization improvements.   

Hamilton predicts that 12,000 Cook County families will be served this year.  On average, the association processes between 1,000 and 1,500 weatherization requests every month.  The association has one year to respond to a request.  

“We expect we will be able to serve all these people at some point,”  Hamilton said. 

A change in how Illinois processes weatherization assistance now makes it easier for government subsidized multifamily units to obtain improvements, which include air sealing, attic and wall insulation and window and door weatherization.  Instead of requiring all Section 8 housing residents to prove they meet assistance requirements, property mangers in Illinois can request weatherization improvements for their entire housing complex.  

That means more people who need home improvements are getting them, according to Stacie Young, the director of the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University. 

“It streamlines the process tremendously for those buildings,” Young said.    

Young works closely with housing groups to find ways to include multifamily units. Single families can also request weatherization funds. State agencies have until March 2012 to use the funds before the stimulus dries up.  

The property manager of Ballard’s building, Andrew Niewiarowski, coordinated Magnolia Court’s effort to reach out to all residents who qualified for weatherization assistance.  Niewiarowski filed the necessary paperwork to ensure Magnolia residents would get their share of the stimulus pie. The association used weatherization funds to replace 428 windows in Magnolia, and Niewiarowski replaced 80 more at his own cost.  The Weatherization Assistance program runs an energy survey before working on a property.  After the survey, the development association decides which energy-saving measures merit government funding.  

Niewiarowski said he has nothing but good things to say about Illinois’ weatherization program.  In addition to replacing windows, the development association installed new fire alarm systems and carbon monoxide detectors in Magnolia Court apartments.  

“There’s a gain for us as property owners, there’s a gain for the tenant in terms of their comfort, and I think there’s, frankly, a gain for the federal government,” Niewiarowski said.   

Meanwhile, Ballard waits inside her cluttered apartment for two new windows promised to her by Magnolia Court---weatherization funds only paid for three new windows in her unit. She anticipates a more comfortable winter, one where she can keep her anemia in check. 

“The windows are gonna make a lot of difference, I’m sure of that,” she said.