by Max Longo
Last October, I started my 11-month journey as an AmeriCorps Energy Corps service member with Climate Smart Missoula. I was thrilled to get started on my primary project, developing a pilot weatherization program aimed at enhancing energy efficiency, health, and safety of manufactured homes, with an emphasis on homes built before the 1976 federal building code. I was surprised to learn that there are 6,000 manufactured homes in Missoula, and about half of them were built before this time. An estimated 1200 of these homes could be lost by 2025 due to deteriorating conditions and issues with moving them. To address and help preserve community members’ homes, Climate Smart has partnered with NeighborWorks Montana, the Human Resource Council, and Home ReSource (full disclosure Climate Smart is in awe of our partner organizations). We’re now a Team, and our Team has done a lot to set ourselves up for success: defining the scope of our efforts, building community awareness, engaging stakeholders, and providing resources directly to residents. I’m proud of our accomplishments.
I’ll share a few examples of the work we’ve done this year and upcoming efforts:
This Spring, our Team hosted the first ever Manufactured Home Resource Fair. Our goal: provide resources for manufactured home residents around Home Repair, Weatherization, Financing, Legal Counseling, and Health. Along with our Team, a handful of local organizations joined. MUD co-hosted at their site. The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) generously donated “light weatherization materials”. We gave away LED lights, weather-stripping, window insulation kits, and water pipe insulation. Climate Smart provided informational pamphlets on the energy savings associated with each. These materials can benefit manufactured homes in particular because upgrades are especially cost-effective, given rates of heat loss and wasted energy. Participants were thrilled with what they received, and we have more left to give out! We’re planning mini “pop up” fairs in manufactured home communities in July and August to provide resources directly to residents. To assist with financial counseling, HomeWord provided materials on their financial education program that can help residents looking to save for improvements to their homes. MoFi provided information on their small-dollar loan program, a low-interest loan specifically for manufactured home repairs, as did the Missoula Federal Credit Union. Additionally, Montana Legal Services offered legal counseling resources.
For help with home repair, MUD offered discounts to their “Tool Library” where folks can access tools for home repair projects. Home ReSource provided coupons for their store which has a plethora of hardware, tools, and home repair materials. Other groups shared assistance programs.
The goal of the Fair was to support residents as they work to improve the safety, health, energy efficiency, livability, and longevity of their homes, and ultimately to preserve existing affordable housing. Manufactured housing, in fact, represents the largest supply of unsubsidized affordable housing in the country. I was grateful for the all the organizations that came out and for the opportunity to help coordinate this effort. However, we expected a slightly larger turnout than what occurred so we thought as a team how to expand this effort to reach more residents.
The group came to the conclusion that many residents are elderly or disabled and mobility can be an issue. In order to address this reality, we decided to replicate the fair through mini “pop up” fairs in manufactured home communities. This way, residents wouldn’t have to travel to us, we would come directly to their neighborhood. We’ve hosted two “pop up” resource events in manufactured home communities and they’ve been a great success! We deliver “care packages” of available resources and weatherization supplies to disabled residents. We’ve reached more people through “pop up” events than the large fair at Home ReSource so I hope this effort continues.
We hosted a “design charrette” in February aimed at building community awareness, engaging key stakeholders and generating designs for our energy retrofit. We invited local builders, architects, weatherization professionals and manufactured home residents to design models of skirting that fit our project goals: energy efficiency, health, and comfort. We sought improvements that were long lasting, safe and affordable. We split into teams and, working together, successfully generated new and creative ideas for improvements in this sector which we’re excited to implement.
During the event, I interacted with homeowners who’d received weatherization services from the Human Resource Council (HRC) and gained a sense of the profound effect an energy retrofit can have on an individual’s life. A mobile home resident commented that the weatherization work the HRC recently did allow her to be comfortable and was so thankful that her house “wasn’t cold in the winter anymore”. She also mentioned saving nearly $50/month on utility costs. Speaking to residents personally about the benefits of weatherization was really encouraging. The models created at the design charrette could improve many community members’ lives, making their homes more energy efficient, comfortable, and healthy. Bringing experts to the table was incredibly beneficial, and we plan to use the re-skirting ideas on manufactured homes moving forward.
Re-skirting Five Manufactured Homes
After all this good work, our Team is now poised to work on skirting replacements for 5 homes in the Missoula area. We created a “design refine team” made of up primarily local builders and architects. This team will visit five homes and refine the “charrette” skirting designs based on the specifications of the home and the wishes of the homeowner. We visited homes and are working to contract out the skirting, underbelly retrofit.
My Americorps service term has been a very rewarding experience because I have the opportunity to work with inspiring individuals that push tirelessly for sustainability and equity.
Max Longo holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in Climate Change Studies from the University of Montana. Prior to Energy Corps, Max worked on issues of campus sustainability for the Associated Students of the University of Montana and has experience engaging with the community on issues of energy and climate from his work with 350 Missoula. Max joined Energy Corps in October 2017 and will serve at Climate Smart Missoula as an Energy and Climate Educator. He will work with community partners to design and launch a new project directed at enlisting volunteers to help weatherize and improve energy efficiency in low-income homes in Missoula. Additionally, he will craft educational and outreach material to engage the community on issues of local solar and clean energy success stories.