Energy upgrades offered to Allegheny County homeowners

Some low-income families would qualify

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About 200 low-income homeowners in Allegheny County who have mortgages through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency could soon get free energy efficiency upgrades.

The improvements, which could include a new furnace, insulation or windows, would be provided under the $1 million Energy Efficiency Foreclosure Prevention Program. The program also includes financial counseling and is designed to reduce energy costs as a way to cut expenses and avoid foreclosure.

The agency is putting $250,000 into the program with the rest coming from four utilities: Columbia, Peoples Natural and Equitable gas companies and Duquesne Light. The agency set up a similar program in Philadelphia last year.

Larry Swanson, executive director of Action Housing Inc., said the improvements can cut energy costs as much as 20 percent for low-income families, which ultimately could help them avoid mortgage foreclosure. He said the financial counseling is as important as the free home improvements.

"If we can get people to talk to us early on, we have the best chance [to keep them from going into foreclosure]," he said.

The agency sent letters to about 1,500 county families that have state-backed mortgages and the 450 who responded will be contacted further beginning today for a closer check of whether they qualify. The program is open to those with income at 200 percent of the poverty level, $30,260 for families of one or two people and $46,100 for a family of four.

Brian A. Hudson Sr., executive director and CEO of the state agency, called the program "a great model" and said he would push for it to be adopted nationally if it proves successful.

Morgan O'Brien, president and CEO of Peoples, said the program is an offshoot of assistance programs already operated by all of the utilities.

The hope is wider promotion will get more people to take advantage of the program.

"Many utilities have weatherization programs, but we have trouble getting people to participate," he said.

The free improvements, expected to cost an average of $5,000, could generate annual savings of as much as $2,000 a year, Mr. Hudson said. The goal is to have improvements finished by next fall.

region - electionspa

Ed Blazina: eblazina@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1470.


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