Climate Justice Creates Healthy Homes

October 3, 2022

For homeowners who live on a fixed income, trying to address problems that plague their homes isn’t always a priority — or something they can afford.

Cynthia, who lives in a home she bought 25 years ago in Northeast Rochester, knows that all too well. When the roof leaked in the garage attached to her 1950s home, it caused extensive damage that eventually extended into the dining and living rooms.

That leak also allowed a raccoon to enter the garage and eventually her home. She nailed a piece of particle board across the doorway to the dining room to keep this unwanted guest from getting into the rest of the house. Floor-to-ceiling two-by-fours kept the waterlogged dining room ceiling from collapsing.

“I worked hard all my life and never imagined I would be here,” said Cynthia, a retiree who lives on Social Security benefits and asked to use only her first name.

She was connected to PathStone’s Empower Program and qualified for grants totaling $57,661 that covered replacing the roof, abating mold issues, and increasing her home’s overall energy efficiency.

Cynthia is one of 420-plus income-qualified homeowners throughout Monroe County whose homes have received new roofs or had sewer lines, windows, or electrical panels replaced, chimneys repaired, or high-efficiency and/or heat pump hot water heaters and furnaces or insulation installed.

These improvements are possible through the collective impact of community partners comprised of city, town, and county governments and more than a dozen nonprofits with expertise in housing, public health, environmental justice, clean HVAC technologies, data analytics, and more — all coordinated by Rochester ENergy Efficiency and Weatherization (RENEW), a Community Foundation initiative.

Funding for this work began in 2015 with a $1 million award from the state Attorney General following a $9.5 million court-ordered settlement for violations of the federal Clean Air Act. The program initially targeted Rochester homes; after four years, partners expressed eagerness to expand beyond city borders.

“At our monthly meetings, we see inter-agency collaboration to solve problems that no one agency can achieve on its own,” said RENEW Program Director Elizabeth McDade.

Here’s how this cooperation works: A qualified homeowner working with a local housing improvement nonprofit gets approved for a new furnace and a tankless water heater, but an inspection reveals problems with the chimney, and funding available from that nonprofit doesn’t cover this safety intervention. Without the chimney repairs, the entire project will be scrapped. The problem is shared with RENEW partners, which work together to identify possible grants to complete the project.

The initial $1 million, along with investments from partners and more recent funders, has leveraged more than $6 million in renovations in Rochester and several suburbs. Of that, RENEW has contributed $1.8 million.

In 2022, RENEW received a $500,000 grant from ESL Charitable Foundation that is specifically for roof repairs. Two $50,000 grants — one from the Sinclaire Foundation and the other from state Sen. Jeremy Cooney — can be used for other types of repairs that make homes safe and energy efficient.

“We are making a real difference in the lives of homeowners and their families with a relatively small investment that is, on average, tripled by partner contributions,” said McDade.

Learn more about RENEW at racf.org/RENEW.


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