Over two-thirds of Baltimore’s housing stock was built before 1959, and these homes use approximately 40 percent more energy than homes built after 2000. Lowering utility costs is critically important to strengthening the financial well-being of low-income families; reducing the usage of government utility bill-pay assistance; reducing the likelihood of utility turn-offs; and lowering the environmental costs of energy production, distribution, and utilization.
Faced with rising water bills; bitterly cold winters; and hot, humid summers, Baltimore homeowners and renters are increasingly susceptible to high utility costs. Low-income seniors and the disabled are particularly vulnerable, as they often lack the ability or the savings to make necessary improvements and repairs. This deferred maintenance can add up and eventually compromise the safety of the residents and the neighborhood. The following programs strengthen the financial resilience of low-income residents, which is key to household self-reliance and neighborhood stability.
Banner Neighborhoods Corporation
Banner Neighborhoods launched the Senior Home Maintenance Program in 1982 to provide support to low-income seniors and disabled homeowners. The program offers home maintenance and modifications to residents living in Southeast Baltimore within the boundaries of Monument Street, Haven Street, Boston Street, and Washington Street. Through its services, the program helps enable financially vulnerable homeowners to remain in their homes as long as their health allows, retaining their community ties and social networks.
Banner Neighborhoods visits each participant at least twice a year to test the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, and completes requests for service throughout the year. The types of work performed prioritize safety repairs to improve health and accessibility, energy efficiency investments to reduce energy costs, elimination of water leaks that can lead to high bills, and routine maintenance such as lightbulb replacement. Work items include everything from repairs to toilets, faucets, and clogged drains to replacement of faulty electrical switches, fixtures, and old lightbulbs. Banner also installs and removes air conditioning units and awnings to keep seniors comfortable during hot summer months.
In December 2016, the Abell Foundation awarded a $35,000 grant for Senior Home Maintenance Program staff and expenses. During the grant year, Banner Neighborhoods performed 271 work orders to over 100 households. All participants were over age 62, with the exception of two disabled clients. The average age of participants was 76, and the average household income was $15,400. The majority of participants are single female heads of household. Based on periodic surveys, more than 90 percent of homeowner clients state that they are very satisfied with the timeliness and quality of Banner’s work.
Civic Works: Retrofit Baltimore
For the past three years, the Abell Foundation has provided grant funds to Civic Works to support its Retrofit Baltimore home energy-efficiency program for low-income households. The most recent grant of $200,000 awarded in December 2016 enabled Civic Works to support the staff needed to implement $1,495,000 in energy-efficiency improvements funded by a Maryland Energy Administration “EmPOWER Clean Energy Communities Low-to-Moderate Income” grant and matching rebates from the regional utility, BGE.
From January 2017 to December 2017, the program completed 400 energy audits and 150 plumbing inspections. Through partner contractors, 250 households received comprehensive weatherization services, and 33 houses received plumbing repairs. In the process, contractors also remediated critical health and safety issues of carbon monoxide and natural gas leaks in half of the houses and electrical hazards in nearly 20 percent of the houses. The program is offered at no charge to participants, but program cost of the energy audits is approximately $450 per home, and the average cost of weatherization is $11,000 per house.
On average, clients receiving full weatherization services are estimated to reduce their energy and water consumption, saving $382 in the first year. For those only receiving audits (which include installation of water heater wraps, aerators, and replacement LED bulbs), the savings is estimated at $119 annually per household. The household savings from reduced consumption allows for greater spending on other household needs and creates significant environmental benefits. Deploying the state and
utility funding to pay weatherization contractors also expands energy-efficiency businesses and their workforce. In the past year, 25 Civic Works workforce trainees were placed with energy contractors that perform audits and install improvements, and 13 were hired into full-time jobs following graduation from the training program.
Fuel Fund of Maryland
The Fuel Fund of Maryland (FFM) works with low-income households to significantly reduce their monthly home energy costs, while allowing them to continue paying their monthly bills. Households can apply through the United Way 2-1-1 hotline, an online application, or community nonprofits. Households pay as much of their bills as they are able, and the gap is filled by private dollars and a match from BGE. In 2016, FFM assisted approximately 11,000 low-income families whose power was off or about to be turned off.
The average arrearage for a Fuel Fund client is now between $1,200 and $1,500 due to the cold winter and four Code Blues that the Baltimore metro area experienced between December 2017 and January 2018. Arrearages are approximately three to four months of bills. The average household income of Fuel Fund clients remains at $1,001 per month with approximately 36 percent of their income going to support their home utility bills.
In 2017, the Abell Foundation awarded a grant of $100,000 to FFM in support of Affordability Solutions programming. As part of its strategy of promoting energy resilience, FFM requires those receiving financial support to participate in Affordability Solutions, a behavior-based energy savings and empowerment program that includes bill assistance, attendance at two Watt Watchers education workshops, and energy coaching. Through Watt Watchers, participating households learn creative ways to reduce energy consumption and save money on their utility bills. Clients attend two in-person workshop sessions and are paired with an energy coach who provides individualized support, monitors progress, and recommends additional programs to reduce energy costs. On average, Watt Watchers graduates reduce their energy consumption by 16 percent in the first six months.
Information published in July 2018.