BOWLING GREEN, Mo. — There has never been a more opportune time to seek assistance from North East Community Action Corporation (NECAC) for weatherization services and home repairs, with the agency receiving an annual Housing Preservation Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office and anticipating an increase in funding from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure and Jobs Act.

Carla Potts, deputy director for housing development with NECAC, said the weatherization process begins with a complete energy audit of the home and a blower door test to determine where air leaks are. NECAC weatherization crews apply caulking and weather-stripping, along with replacing windows, doors, furnaces and other items necessary to make the home efficient and weathertight. Potts said the education aspect of the program imparts knowledge to clients so they can “continue to make their home more energy-efficient.”

NECAC provides assistance for about 300 households a year through the Weatherization and Home Repair Program. The difference made by the efforts for clients is life-changing, Potts said. Several clients have called NECAC to report their energy bills were substantially reduced. Others have found they could discontinue energy assistance because they could afford the energy bills after the repairs were complete. And Potts noted how the changes make homes warm in winter and cool in summer.

“They save money and they’re comfortable in their home. You can’t get better than that,” she said.

For some clients, the difference is stark before and after the work. Potts remembered one client who had no heat, and no way to get heat. Air leaks caused frost to form on the inside of the home’s windows.

“So, we were able to go in and put a new furnace in and new windows and change her life completely,” Potts said.

This year’s USDA Rural Development Housing Preservation Grant will provide $149,445 for repairs for 14 homes in Lewis, Macon, Marion, Monroe, Montgomery, Pike, Ralls, Randolph and Shelby counties. Potts said the grant funds can be used for repairs like roof replacements and improving accessibility to the home, ensuring the home lasts in to the future for each homeowner. She noted how a roof replacement would allow weatherization efforts like adding insulation to improve efficiency and work to preserve the aging housing stock in the area.

“USDA Rural Development has long partnered with various organizations, together making a larger impact in rural Missouri,” USDA Rural Development Missouri Acting State Director D. Clark Thomas said in a release. “The Housing Preservation Grant Program is an excellent example of how these partnerships positively benefit rural Missourians by funding needed health and safety home improvements for homeowners, improving the quality of life in rural America.”

Potts said with expected increases for energy costs, the impact of weatherization and home repairs becomes even more pronounced.

“When you have air leakage, and you have warm air going out of your home in winter or cold air in summer, it’s dollar bills going out the door and the windows,” Potts said. “When everything is higher, it increases the amount of dollar bills going out. And weatherization steals those leaks and weatherizes your home so you’re not losing money.”

Potts said weatherization is part of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, and NECAC officials are expecting more funding to come in for those types of projects. She recommended people call their local NECAC County Service Center to make an appointment for weatherization. The County Coordinator works with each client to make sure they can bring in everything necessary to get the process moving ahead.

Applying for weatherization and home repairs is straightforward, and the completed applications are sent to the Bowling Green, Mo. office to be processed. Potts said the anticipated funding increase means NECAC officials are expecting to get through waiting lists rapidly.

“I always say that even if you’re on a waiting list, it’s better to be on that list than not to be on it — because you are going to get a time to be weatherized,” she said. “If you just say, ‘oh, I don’t want to do that,’ you’ll never get the opportunity. So, now is the opportunity.”

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