The appropriation of $5 billion in the stimulus bill for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), about 20 times what had usually been appropriated, held promise that significant resources might finally be made available for energy conservation retrofitting of affordable multifamily housing. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Stephen Chu devoted considerable energy early in 2009 to make that happen, announcing memorandums of understanding last spring.
In May 2009, DOE issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking designed to avoid duplicative income verification for residents of HUD-assisted housing. Although the final rule was delayed until January 25, 2010, when finally issued it not only provided a useful solution for income verification but also endorsed or left standing innovative state policies on a set of regulatory issues. See www.sahfnet.org.
WAP money flows through the states to subgrantees, most of whom have no experience with retrofitting buildings larger than four units. In many states, subgrantees have locked up the funds but have not given serious thought to and often lack the technical skills and experience weatherize multifamily housing. Despite the fact that funds could be put to work on multifamily retrofits, the reality on the ground has been terribly disappointing.
States have received half of the $5 billion, with the other half due to be distributed in FY 2011. DOE will then make a decision about whether to distribute the rest of the funds under criteria that, among other things, call for the states to have weatherized at least 30 percent of the housing units promised to be served with the first round of funding. To track progress and make sure it has the data needed for its decisions, DOE is now proposing monthly reporting from the states. As time passes, funds are not expended, and there are few multifamily retrofits in most states, pressure is building for a more explicit and effective multifamily WAP program.
Fortunately, there are good models on which to build. Pennsylvania, for example, has allocated 10 percent of its funds to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) as subgrantee. PHFA is using its funding as part of an ambitious statewide retrofit effort, also funded from its own reserves and the proceeds of a MacArthur Foundation grant. It is time for HUD and DOE to renew their push.
Bill Kelly is President of Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future.