On Tuesday, I attended Tacoma-Pierce County Habitat for Humanity’s “Changing Lives Lunch-IN” virtual fundraiser. One of their engagement activities displayed an image of a house with the words “Home is my _______.” COVID has certainly expanded the answers to that question. For most of us, our homes became a refuge, a remote office, a classroom, a gym, and a safe place to isolate.
At the same time, COVID-induced job losses have put incredible stresses on household budgets. Far too many residents are seeing their rent or mortgage payments piling up. The prospect of losing their home is looming, and terrifying.
That is why I am so proud of Heather Moss and our Human Services team. In 2020, they used federal CARES Act funding to provide rental and mortgage assistance to 7,000 families who were at risk of losing their homes. And more help is on the way. We already have received another $20M in federal rental assistance and expect to receive much more in the coming months. Unlike some of the money we received last year, the new funding allows people to not only pay rent but also pay utility bills and other obligations related to housing. Our Human Services colleagues will have another very busy year helping our residents who need it the most!
Speaking of utility bills, I had a chance to see one of my favorite County programs in action recently. The Weatherization Program, also managed by Human Services, allows qualified low-income residents to have their homes tested for energy efficiency and covers the cost to implement smart improvements to lower their energy use and bills. The demand for this program has expanded significantly due to COVID-caused job losses.
The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. According to the Department, low-income households carry a larger burden for energy costs, typically spending 16.3% of their total annual income versus 3.5% for other households. Often, they must cut back on healthcare, medicine, groceries, and childcare to pay their energy bills.
I was impressed to learn that clients can lower their post-weatherization utility bills by 20% or more, thanks to the updates and renovations done by our team. Those cost savings are even more important in the face of the pandemic – they can be key to keeping people in their homes.
This program saves energy, reduces utility costs, and helps keep houses affordable. A Win-Win-Win!
You can see the program in action in this video: (Listen carefully for the expected savings to Ethan’s heating bill!)
My thanks to Michael Johnson for letting me tag along, and to our resident, Ethan Gostin, for sharing his story with us.
Before I close, I want to remind you of two special events coming up next week. On Wednesday at noon, I invite you to tune in and watch the annual State of the County address. We’re mixing it up a bit this year and will be “on location” at Farm 12 in Puyallup. Farm 12 is a great example of adaptability and resilience during the pandemic. You can watch the address on PCTV in several ways: Online at www.piercecountytv.org/live, on television via Comcast 22, Click 22/522 HD, Rainier Connect 20/513, or on the PCTV Mobile App.
Next Friday we are hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony for the long-awaited Crisis Recovery Center in Parkland!
The pandemic took its toll on the construction of this vitally needed resource. I’m glad we are finally able to open the doors to those in our community who will benefit from a place to catch their breath, develop a treatment plan and begin healing. That event will be held at 11:30 on March 12 and you can watch it live at www.piercecountywa.gov/crc.
Thanks for all you do to serve our residents,