When you’re grinding away each month to buy gas and put food on the table, even a small savings on your utility bills can go a long way. This is especially true for public housing families who spend up to 19% of their total income on water and energy costs.
In early 2020, Barancik Foundation sought a holistic approach to creating intergenerational cycles of opportunity by partnering with the Sarasota Housing Authority (SHA) and Sarasota County’s sustainability team to provide energy outreach and education, maintenance work, and utility efficiency upgrades for residents living in public housing.
Grant funds helped hire a specialist to set up weekly stations in partnership with nonprofits such as Mothers Helping Mothers, UnidosNow, All Faiths Food Bank, and Boys & Girls Club. These stations include bilingual kits with education material, LED light bulbs and fliers on community resources. The specialist also trains volunteers to do energy sweeps at other affordable housing nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and Harvest House.
Despite pandemic hurdles, we have so far doubled our intended target number, with more than 1,000 households participating so far. Conservative estimates suggest these families will save around $300 per year on energy bills alone.
The grant also funded a Maintenance Apprentice position that is now filled by a current public housing resident, who is learning carpentry, plumbing, HVAC and maintenance skills—abilities that will transfer to future employment opportunities. The apprentice is responsible for conducting energy needs assessments in the SHA units and performing Level 2 (lighting, thermostats, toilets) retrofits. Grant funds also allow for professional contractors to perform Level 3 retrofits to seal soffits and insulate attics in these homes.
Not only does this work reduce costs and help lower demand on the environment, but it also improves air quality and health outcomes for the families living in these homes. We have partnered with Southface Institute, which administered air quality assessments and health screenings on the residents prior to the retrofits, and post-assessments will happen in the coming months.