Smart improvement: Plug into energy-efficient grants locally

HOUGHTON — Area residents will be able to make their homes more energy efficient through a new series of federal grants.

Western Upper Peninsula Planning & Development Region received $500,000 through a grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority for energy-efficient home repairs and programs. The funds are coming through the Michigan Housing Opportunities Promoting Energy Efficiency Program (MI-HOPE), which uses funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Lisa McKenzie, planner with WUPPDR, said WUPPDR regularly gets calls on repairs to assist residents throughout the six-county area.

“A large percentage of our homes are really old,” she said. “Then with the coronavirus and the resulting economic hardship, people have found it more difficult to repair their homes.”

The funds are available for owner-occupied single-family homes in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Iron counties. The other two counties in WUPPDR’s coverage area, Gogebic and Ontonagon, received another $300,000 through Gogebic-Ontonagon Community Action Agency.

“I think that’s exceptional,” McKenzie said. “It says the need is there, MSHDA recognizes that, and has really awarded the Western U.P. a nice amount of funding for this.”

Grants of up to $25,000 are available to owner-occupied single family homes; duplexes also qualify as long as the owner lives in a unit. They can assist with roof repair or replacement, windows, insulation, heating systems and water heaters.

WUPPDR starts with a whole-house energy audit, checking for lead-based insulation and other issues. Even if an issue won’t be covered through MI-HOPE, learning about it gives the homeowner an idea about what areas to address, McKenzie said.

“I think it’s a drop in the bucket as far as the issue we have out there, but it’s a start, and we’re really excited about the program,” she said.

Projects are anticipated to be completed by Sept. 30, 2026. All funds will need to be allocated by 2024, though McKenzie anticipates it won’t take that long.

The hope is to have a first lottery round for applications by Christmas. Up to $28.5 million is being disbursed statewide, including up to $10 million in the first funding round. WUPPDR will also apply for the second round of funding, which will be announced in spring 2023.

“We really want to be able to get additional funds, so we want people to apply as soon as possible,” McKenzie said.

People can apply online or see more details about eligibility at michigan.gov/mshda/neighborhoods/mi-housing-opportunities-promoting-energy-efficiency-program-mi-hope or wuppdr.org/housing.

The application process isn’t difficult, but people will need to upload several documents, McKenzie said. Those include utility bills for electric and gas, and also their wage statement from their employer. They will also need a document to show they own their own property, and a tax assessment or tax bill, which documents that their taxes are paid and up to date.

Applicants should also upload a copy of their photo ID.

Because the grants come through ARPA, people will also be asked how they were affected by COVID.

“MSHDA believes, as we do, that everyone has been affected by COVID, with the increase in utility bills and housing costs, and that is a hardship,” McKenzie said. “That’s why these funds are available.”

Applications are open to people with income up to 300% of the poverty guidelines. That provides funding for a category of households that generally do not receive assistance of this kind, McKenzie said.

“This reaches more middle-income people that are just having a hard time making some of these repairs while maintaining their home and paying their normal housing expenses,” she said. “We’re hoping these energy efficiency improvements will allow them to stay more independent and lower their energy costs and have more funding for other things they need.”

People who need additional help with the application can email McKenzie at info@wuppdr.org or lmckenzie@wuppdr.org. They can also call WUPPDR at 906-482-7205 and set up an appointment.

Local contractors interested in helping with the energy efficiency work should also call or email WUPPDR, McKenzie said.


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