by Madelyn Lazorchak, NeighborWorks America’s Communications Write
September is National Preparedness Month, a time to prepare for disasters or emergencies that could happen at any time. Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida (NHSSF) is spending the month putting the finishing touches on a new loan program that will help families prepare their properties for emergencies, says Juan Carlos Gordillo, marketing and communications manager for the NeighborWorks network organization. The focus will be on creating more resilient and energy-efficient homes. Hurricane Ida, which recently brought a deluge of rain to the Gulf Coast, highlights the need for that resiliency.
Using funding from the Opportunity Finance Network, the national association of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), NHSSF will offer loans to help residents protect their homes against the heat and the storms that have hit South Florida hard these last few years. Residents can also use loans for new windows, energy efficient appliances, and more, to help save money while helping the environment.
“Florida is really in a hot spot, due to climate change and flooding,” Gordillo explains. “We are seeing stronger hurricanes and recurring extreme weather events. These loans will help homeowners make improvements to face the impact.”
The program will be especially beneficial for low-income homeowners, who have a difficult time coming up with financing for improvements that can help protect their homes or lower energy bills, Gordillo says. “We want to give low-income homeowners access to green technology.” Residents could buy new, energy efficient refrigerator, or improve the insulation of doors and windows to protect their homes, for example. They could purchase a generator to keep things running when the power goes out, after a hurricane has touched land.
Heat has been such a challenge in Florida that Miami-Dade hired a heat officer this year, the first in the nation. “We want to help there, too,” Gordillo says, adding that loans could be used to get new air conditioning systems, or to elevate air-conditioning systems on platforms, to protect them from flooding.
NHSSF conducted a survey over the past two months to see how to better address homeowners’ needs. “We asked them: If you had the opportunity to make improvements, what would you like to do? Would you need money? How much would you need?” One hundred percent of survey respondents stated they would make energy-efficient improvements if they had financing options available. Rising energy costs and combating climate changes appeared to be the largest motivators. The three things residents wanted most included: solar panels, floodproofing, and energy-efficient appliances. For resiliency upgrades, residents listed generators as the item they needed most, followed by floodproofing and impact glass windows. “Flooding is a constant hazard for many of our residents,” Gordillo explains. “Every hurricane season, they face that challenge.”
NeighborWorks organizations across the country are becoming increasingly agile in helping communities and homeowners respond to natural disasters, regardless of the geography. “Whether the disasters are related to floods, fires, earthquakes, or drought, our network is developing locally-tailored solutions like this loan program in Florida to assist residents in maintaining their individual and community’s social and economic fabric and resilience as future events occur,” according to Sarah Kackar, director of Rural Initiatives at NeighborWorks America.
At the end of August, Jim Murley, chief resilience officer for Miami-Dade County, had his eyes glued on the flooding in Louisiana and New York. “It could have happened to us,” he says, adding that Florida is often considered “ground zero” when it comes to the effects of storms and of a changing climate. “We have to prepare. We’re constantly preparing and using the resources we have as a public entity.” When nonprofits like NHSSF are able to compliment that preparation, it makes a difference, he adds.
“We want homeowners to be able to access capital to make the improvements we know they need,” says Murley. The county government works with weatherization and other programs, but Miami-Dade has 34 municipalities within its boundaries. “There are never enough funds. We want to expand the choices citizens have to make improvements to their homes so they can withstand impacts of shock, like hurricanes.”
Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida is striving to be one of those choices. Gordillo estimates that loans through the new program will average $7,000 each. That can make a difference in protecting a home, he relates. Staff will continue to evaluate the program after its launch to see what other possibilities become available.
Read original note appeared on NeighborWorks America on September 8, 2021.