REEA Weatherization Award: Butter Brook Hill Apartments

Between 2009 and 2011, Connecticut received $64.3 million in ARRA funds for its Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). But it wasn’t quite enough to complete all the projects it had planned. One unfortunate casualty was the Butter Brook Hill Apartments, a four-building development in New Milford that provides independent living for seniors.

New Opportunities, Inc., a Waterbury-based community action agency, was determined to complete the project. So in the fall of 2012, New Opportunities, along with several government and nonprofit partners, met with potential funders and began submitting proposals for the project. Ultimately, they patched together the funding, in three parts, from a variety of federal and state sources, but it was far from easy.

The first chunk of funds came from Connecticut’s DOE/WAP fund, which by 2013 was down to $500,000—enough to assist fewer than 50 units of housing in a year. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) administers DOE/WAP, and at New Opportunities’ request, approved a proposal to weatherize one of Butter Brook Hill’s four buildings. DEEP then submitted an energy audit to the DOE, which approved the funding in February 2013.

The second source of funding came from the Connecticut Efficient Healthy Homes Initiative, a DOE Weatherization Innovation Pilot Program administered by United Illuminating, a regional electric utility. But it hit a snag: the program required a completely different auditing procedure than the one typically used by the DOE/WAP. Undeterred, New Opportunities retrained its staff, submitted the audit, and received funding in May 2013.

The final chunk came from Connecticut Light & Power’s (CL∓P) Home Energy Solutions–Income Eligible program, funded by ratepayers through the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund. The program paid for individual measures at Butter Brook Hill not covered by the other two sources, including a significant portion of the ductless split heat pumps that would be installed in every unit.

Despite a commitment in July from CL&P, the saga wasn’t over. With a September 30 completion date looming, the contractor for the heat pumps told New Opportunities it would need an advance to secure the necessary materials without price increases. Because the project couldn’t take on any additional expenses, New Opportunities and its director of business development, Michael Gurecka, worked with the nonprofit Connecticut Housing Investment Fund to pilot a “bridge loan” program to cover the contractor’s advance, ultimately securing funds just 10 days before the start of the project. (The bridge loan is now a permanent part of Connecticut’s multifamily weatherization process.)

The ductless heat pumps and other weatherization measures (such as caulking, weather-stripping, and energy-efficient light fixtures) have saved Butter Brook Hill tenants an average of $450 a year on their utility bills. For the elderly and disabled residents, putting that amount of money back in their pockets “is just incredible,” said Gurecka.


All photos courtesy of New Opportunities, Inc

Just as important to the residents is how comfortable their apartments have become. To illustrate the point, Gurecka relayed a story one resident told him at a training session on the new remote-controlled heat pumps: Sister Mary Michael, an 89-year-old resident, stood up and said, “In all the years I’ve been here I could never sleep in my bedroom during the summer because it would be so hot. Now I go in, I take that remote, I point it to the heat pump, I click the button, I watch the louvers come up, and I crawl in bed. So thank you so much.”

Helping Sister Mary Michael and the other residents of Butter Brook Hill wouldn’t have been possible if all the project partners hadn’t worked together, according to Gurecka. “Collaboration does work,” he said. “And if you can get all the parties together and really brainstorm, you can provide the services you want to for a community.”

Just as important to the residents is how comfortable their apartments have become. To illustrate the point, Gurecka relayed a story one resident told him at a training session on the Helping Sister Mary Michael and the other residents of Butter Brook Hill wouldn’t have been possible if For Gurecka, a 30-year veteran in the nonprofit sector, it’s worth the effort to bring safe and comfortable housing to those who need it most. “Anything you can do to assist them and bring them a better quality of life is what it’s all about.”