Federal funds will improve home and apartment efficiency

HUDSON–Columbia Opportunities, Inc. announced this week that it will allocate $400,000 in federal funds to weatherize and make the Hudson Terrace Apartments more energy efficient. And even with that expenditure, the agency has almost half again as much money that it has applied or soon will spend on similar projects elsewhere in Columbia County.

The non-profit social services agency will partner with the new owners of the Hudson riverfront apartment complex, Evergreen Partners, a company based in Portland, Me., which specializes in the redevelopment and management of affordable housing by acquiring, stabilizing and preserving older regulated properties.

Tina Sharpe, executive director of Columbia Opportunities, said that the grant of nearly $600,000 made under the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), often referred to as the federal economic stimulus package, will allow the agency to more than double its efforts aimed at upgrading the energy efficiency of affordable housing in the county. The funding, money enables the agency, which normally weatherizes 60 or more homes a year and always has a waiting list, to address needs that it would usually not be able to meet, said Ms. Sharpe. Columbia Opportunities also decided to subcontract some of the work, employing local venders. “That that was part our own stimulus thinking,” she said.

“We looked at some of the affordable housing complexes in our community, and reached out especially to those where tenants are responsible for paying for their own heat. They receive a rent subsidy, but with apartments heated with electric, they can be paying a huge amount toward heating expenses. We became aware that Hudson Terrace Apartments was being purchased by Evergreen Partners and learned that our timeframes matched.”

Ms. Sharpe said that starting in October of 2009 her organization became aware that it would receive the funding. In February of this year, Columbia Opportunities commenced a long process requiring extensive paperwork to launch the project, but now that the work is done, she said, “We will be able to partner throughout the whole renovation.”

Columbia Opportunities opened in 1978 “with a mission to help solve poverty related problems in our community,” she said. The weatherization initiative is one of several programs the agency administers, including a housing choice voucher program, formerly called Section 8, housing related services and programs, homeless intervention, rental assistance, Head Start, and family literacy, parenting, and teen pregnancy programs.

“Altogether we’ll have a dramatic impact on both the comfort and the cost,” said Charlie Allen of Evergreen Partners. He said that renovations include new windows, replacing electric heat with new gas-fired furnaces, central air conditioning systems, and increasing insulation in a variety of places in the buildings. “We can shift people around. No one has to leave. There’s a lot of moving, but at the end of it, residents are usually thrilled to have virtually a brand new apartment, with new kitchens, bathrooms, flooring, and fixtures.

Rents will not go up, said Mr. Allen. Residents are assisted with their rent through the federal housing program, which sets rent payments at 30% of a tenant’s income.

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