Weatherization Plus Health: The Next Step for the Weatherization Assistance Program

Weatherization Plus Health The Next Step for the Weatherization Assistance Program
The connection between health and housing seems obvious: we spend most of our time in our homes, and our surroundings have a great impact on our well-being. What may be less obvious is the connection between health and energy efficiency in homes. The Weatherization Plus Health initiative, implemented by the National Association for State Community Services Programs (NASCSP) on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), seeks to establish the link between the low-income Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and healthy homes programs nationwide, thereby ensuring that the homes served are safer and healthier, as well as more energy efficient. WAP’s mission is to reduce energy costs for low-income families—particularly for the elderly, people with disabilities, and children—by improving the energy efficiency of their homes while ensuring their health and safety. For decades, innovative service providers have creatively leveraged resources to deliver top-quality, all-inclusive services. The WAP already considers health and safety when retrofitting a home—in fact, it is a cornerstone of the program. The program’s comprehensive “House as a System” approach emphasizes that a house is a system of interdependent parts that should take into account the interaction of the occupants, building envelope, and mechanical systems. Modifications to one part of a house can lead to unforeseen ramifications in another part of the house. Although this approach has led to the safe weatherization of millions of homes nationwide in the 30-year history of the program, the focus on energy efficiency restricts the use of funds to address more extensive, comprehensive remediation and mitigation projects, including those for asbestos, radon, or structural deficiencies, sometimes leading to deferrals. No weatherizer likes to leave significant health and safety issues in a home unaddressed, but on occasion must do so. The healthy homes initiative is a comprehensive approach to combating disease and injury in the home. Rigorously tested scientific evidence links substandard housing to poor health, driving the creation of healthy homes programs. Providers take a holistic approach to coordinated mitigation of housing-related hazards, rather than addressing one at a time. These programs exist throughout the nation in a loose confederation. Funded through a variety of federal, state, and local sources, these programs vary widely in scope and focus, as well as due to regional needs. Locating a provider of a particular service and navigating the web of nonprofits and other entities providing those services can be challenging. This is where the Weatherization Plus Health initiative steps in. Weatherization Plus Health, taking its inspiration from the Opportunity Council of Bellingham, Washington program of the same name, seeks to connect WAP and healthy homes providers in an effort to ensure that low-income homes are best served with comprehensive services to address their energy efficiency as well as health and safety needs. To do so, NASCSP is creating a number of resources and providing extensive training to facilitate ongoing communication and cooperation between the providers of these complementary services. A major goal of the project is to identify existing partnerships and how those partnerships need to be expanded to serve every county in the nation. NASCSP will produce reports for each state and territory that will detail the existing WAP and healthy homes infrastructure, highlight successful partnerships, and identify possible pathways to future collaboration. These reports will also show where increased cooperation between agencies and providers could significantly improve the provision of services to needy families. In tandem with the state reports, NASCSP is creating a publicly accessible website that will map healthy homes and WAP providers nationwide. This interactive application will be available to all and will simply and easily show where and how one can get assistance for any particular health, safety, or energy efficiency issue within a specified area. Training and technical assistance is a critical component of Weatherization Plus Health. To that end, NASCSP offers training to interested parties through conferences, webinars, or other means in order to facilitate partnerships and disseminate best practices throughout the network. These best practices models and resources will be available online and publicly, and will detail models of collaboration and proven successes. NASCSP and the DOE have convened six regional conferences to physically bring together WAP and healthy homes providers, identify gaps between existing partnerships, and encourage new ones. Five of these conferences have already taken place, with the final conference to take place on November 16–18, 2011, in San Diego, California. Targeted participants include any interested parties who work in the fields of energy efficiency or health and safety, such as state directors of the WAP, state and local WAP staff, state public health officials, state associations and community action partnerships, Community Services Block Grant staff, community action associations, healthy homes practitioners, local health departments, health professionals, researchers and/or advocates focusing on energy efficiency or healthy homes issues, and housing and/or community development agencies. Each conference follows a standard model. First, participants split into two groups. Those with a background in weatherization attend the Introduction to Healthy Homes course, which explores the principles of healthy homes and opportunities for integration between programs. Participants with a health background attend the Introduction to WAP course, which outlines the history, service network, and technology, including health and safety measures. Second, agencies who have successfully worked to connect WAP and healthy homes programs provide conference participants with a guide to partnership building in an interactive session. Third, a key component of each conference is a set of state facilitated meetings—facilitated planning sessions for each state represented. These meetings bring together conference attendees and stakeholders to discuss the needs and challenges that brought them to the conference. A trained facilitator helps participants establish a foundation for future partnership by constructing a list of shared priorities and post-conference action steps. The objective of the state facilitated meetings is to serve as a building block for future local and state-level collaboration between WAP and healthy homes practitioners in each community. These successful and popular conferences will be followed up with six additional conferences in 2012 that will track and expand upon the work done at the previous conferences as well as in the intervening months. As you can see, Weatherization Plus Health promises to deliver important resources to the WAP and healthy homes networks and improve housing nationwide. This will result in healthy homes, healthier families and children, and ultimately, a healthier country.