New funds from settlement with power company will help refugee community in Buffalo and at-risk homeowners in Rochester and Syracuse cut heating bills, eliminate home health and safety hazards
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced Thursday he is providing nearly $2.2 million for a two-pronged expansion of the highly successful Buffalo Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, a program that has already helped more than 200 of Buffalo's neediest families lower their energy bills and eliminate serious home health and safety hazards in older homes.
First, Schneiderman is committing $193,000 to a new, two-year project to improve the participation of Buffalo's community of resettled political refugees in the BGHHI. This New Americans Project will help reduce communication and cultural barriers that prevent Nepali and Burmese refugees - groups with the highest rates of homeownership among Buffalo's refugee community - from fully accessing the initiative.
Second, the A.G. is creating the Central New York Healthier, Safer, Greener Homes Initiative, which will provide a total of $2 million to replicate the BGHHI model in Rochester and Syracuse. The office has dedicated $1 million to expand the program in Rochester and $1 million in Syracuse.
"Aging homes, poverty and unemployment force too many low-income families to live in houses that are unsafe, unhealthy and bad for the environment. The programs announced today will address these problems head-on," Schneiderman said. "In addition to the new funds announced today, these programs will attract additional resources to help our most vulnerable homeowners cut their heating bills and end unhealthy living conditions. These programs strengthen our neighborhoods and revitalize our communities."
The programs announced and expanded are funded by $9.5 million obtained in a 2007 court-ordered settlement with American Electric Power (AEP), the largest U.S. power company, for violations of the federal Clean Air Act. BGHHI was initially funded with $2.6 million in 2010.
The BGHHI, New Americans Project and Central New York Healthier, Safer, Greener Homes Initiative all respond to the high utility bills and home health and safety hazards that low-income residents face in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. The monies provided by the A.G.'s office directly fund energy efficiency and weatherization improvements in targeted owner-occupied housing, while serving as a catalyst to attract parallel funding for health and safety improvements such as lead poisoning intervention, asthma trigger reduction (reducing mold, dust and vermin infestation) and correction of home accident hazards.
In recent years, roughly 1,500 documented refugees have settled in Buffalo annually, with an additional 400 to 500 refugees relocating to the city after being initially settled in other states. Burmese and Nepali refugees are among the refugee groups settling in Buffalo in the largest numbers, with a total population now of roughly 20,000 in the city. The Burmese and Nepali populations have the greatest level of home ownership among Buffalo's resettled refugee communities.
In most cases, the only housing that is affordable for the new refugees is in extreme disrepair. This often results in high utility costs and home health hazards, including lead paint and asbestos exposure and trip-and-fall hazards, which is of particular concern for children and the elderly. In Buffalo, nearly 70 percent of homes were built prior to 1939.
The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, a 90-year-old local philanthropic institution that administers the BGHHI, will serve as the administrator for the New Americans Project. Through the project, the Jericho Road Community Health Center, a nonprofit organization that specializes in providing health and social services to resettled refugees, will be funded to employ community health workers with the language and cultural skills to reach out to the Burmese and Nepali communities on the West Side of Buffalo. The project will identify and enroll into the BGHHI homes that have acute health, safety and energy efficiency needs. It will also provide direct educational intervention tailored to particular home improvement needs.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said, "With the goals of improving health and housing, the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative has provided the tools and education for our community to decrease lead in housing and improve residents' health in the process, in addition to increasing energy efficiency. Thanks to Attorney General Schneiderman, our partners at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and all the residents who've taken part in efforts so far, our community is a healthier, cleaner and more efficient place."
Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, said, "Addressing critical community challenges requires a collaborative approach and the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative is a wonderful example of how our partners, both public and private, have worked together successfully to help more than 200 low-income homeowners to conserve energy, save money and protect the health and safety of their families. We are grateful for the invaluable partnership with the attorney general, and his continued support will allow us to bring new immigrants into the GHHI program, crossing the barriers of language and culture."
Florine Harwell, a beneficiary of the Buffalo program, said, "As a senior with very limited income, I was desperate for someone to help me with much-needed repairs to my home that I could not afford. I cannot begin to say how blessed I was to receive the assistance from Attorney General Schneiderman and the Green and Healthy Homes Program. They took care of everything that needed be fixed, and now my daughter, three grandchildren and I live in a warm and safe home."
Chris Campbell, CEO of Jericho Road Community Health Center, said, "We applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for dedicating this funding - money that will allow us to more proactively address home health, safety and energy efficiency needs within Buffalo's refugee communities. This funding will allow Jericho Road to use staff members from the Nepalese and Burmese communities to cross cultural and language barriers, and provide critical support to Buffalo's newest residents."
Govinda Subedi, Nepali community health worker of Jericho Road Community Health Center, said, "With this funding from Attorney General Schneiderman, I will be able to help my community become more self-sufficient and more aware of their families' health and home life. Building up the members in my community is very important to me."
Stephanie J. Simeon, executive director of Heart of the City Neighborhoods Inc., a subcontractor for the Buffalo initiative, said, "The attorney general's seed money for Green and Healthy Homes has been a game changer. It allows my organization to partner with other agencies and address Buffalo's aging housing stock in a new and better way. It is gratifying to be able to make meaningful interventions that help individual needy families and, in so doing, creates a foundation for overall neighborhood revitalization."
The BGHHI, which the A.G.'s office helped create in 2010, is administered by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. The key innovation of the Buffalo program, which will be repeated in the Central New York Healthier, Safer, Greener Homes Initiative, is its use of "resource-braiding" to attract funding from a range of governmental and philanthropic sources. With additional resources, money is coordinated and focused on "whole-home" remedies. This approach has allowed the program to address the full range of energy efficiency and weatherization improvements, as well as health, and safety needs of homeowners through single, comprehensive interventions.
Although still relatively new, BGHHI has an established an impressive track record of accomplishments. To date, the initiative has:
•Assisted more than 200 of Buffalo's neediest families with crucial home health, safety and weatherization interventions, with more than 100 more in progress;
•Grown the $2.6 million of initial investments in the BGHHI into more than $8 million in program funds;
•Engaged more than 50 public and private sector partners in implementing the initiative;
•Achieved home rehabilitations at an extremely cost-effective average investment of just over $10,000 per home - with OAG's funding contribution averaging roughly 1/3 of the total per-home allocation;
•Trained more than 270 unemployed or underemployed Buffalo residents (most formerly incarcerated, people of color, and very low income) for careers related to home improvement. More than 175 of those receiving training through the BGHHI, have been placed in jobs; and
•Received numerous awards and recognitions, including Buffalo's designation as the 15th national Green and Health Homes Initiative site by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This matter is being handled for Schneiderman by Assistant Attorney General Jane Cameron and Policy Advisor Peter C. Washburn of the attorney general's environmental protection bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Monica Wager and Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg and First Deputy for Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel.