30 Homes Owned By Columbia Housing Corp. To Get Energy-saving Makeovers

July 05, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

Thanks to $300,000 from Maryland state government, about 30 older Columbia townhouses owned by a nonprofit and occupied by low- and moderate-income families will get a major energy-saving makeover in coming months.

Howard County's Community Action Agency applied for enough money to replace windows, heating and cooling equipment and hot-water heaters, and to install digital "smart" thermostats in about 10 percent of the nearly 40-year-old homes in Wilde Lake and Harper's Choice owned by the Columbia Housing Corp. The nonprofit group, which began life at Columbia's birth as Interfaith Housing, will also kick in $150,000, said Bita Dayhoff, vice president of the private, but government-funded Community Action Council.

"This is actually a unique partnership," between the two nonprofits, Dayhoff said. Rather than use the money for individual applicants, CAC officials decided to work with Columbia Housing exclusively.

With energy utility costs rising, some residents are hard-pressed, said Grace A. Morris, executive director of Columbia Housing.

"It's absolutely important. We're looking at energy efficiency everywhere," Morris said.

She said the homes would be refurbished gradually as turnover creates temporary vacancies, since the work is too extensive to do while a home is occupied.

The end result will benefit residents who pay their own utility bills, not the agency itself, which does pay utilities for some very-low-income families.

"You're supposed to benefit other people," Morris said, explaining why her agency won't use the renewed homes for tenants whose utility bills are paid for by Columbia Housing.

The subsidized complexes were the first homes for lower-income families built in Columbia in 1969, an expression of founder James Rouse's idea that people of all incomes and backgrounds should be able to live in the new city.

The homes were built in clusters near the Wilde Lake Village Center and off Harper's Farm Road. Plans to build more fell through over time as the economy worsened in the mid-1970s and the original Interfaith Housing morphed into the Columbia Housing Corp.

Morris said many of the homes, despite repairs and replacement appliances installed over time, have inefficient windows, gas furnaces and other features that waste energy and cost residents more of their scarce resources, especially as the cost of energy continues to rise.

Dayhoff said the money represents new funding from the Maryland Energy Administration's Empower Clean Energy Program.

"We're always looking for new funding," she said, and a CAC employee saw mention of the money on the state agency's Web site.

The agency had to compete for it with other housing organizations around the state. The original application would have covered about 50 homes at a cost of roughly $28,000 each, but CAC got a lesser amount.

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