Warming hearts and homes

Program helps inner-city residents while teaching life skills

  • Warm Up Winnipeg employee Patty Laroque helps install a new basement.

A program that retrofits homes in the inner-city is helping low-income residents save on their heating and water bills while helping inexperienced workers learn work and life skills.

Warm Up Winnipeg is a non-profit venture that provides Winnipeg homes with energy efficiency upgrades – get this – for free. The retrofit upgrades include additional attic and basement insulation as well as water-related retrofits.

BUILD (Building Urban Industries for Local Development) is the organization that runs Warm Up Winnipeg. To qualify for the services, residents must be low-income.

In addition to helping residents save on their heating and water bills, Warm Up Winnipeg also doubles as a training program, said executive director Shaun Loney.

“It’s basically an introduction to carpentry for folks who are interested in the trades.”

According to BUILD’s website, the company seeks “a Winnipeg where utility bills in low-income housing are affordable and where the residents living in this housing have gainful, family supporting employment.”

BUILD helps people who are otherwise unemployable to build their trade skills – once again, for free – so that they can help others while earning an income. Resources such as first aid and CPR training, a social worker on site, as well as parenting classes and a driver licensing program, allow BUILD to aid in life skills beyond employment.

“We try to tackle whatever’s been pulling them back from gaining meaningful employment.” Loney said.

The funding for Warm Up Winnipeg initiative comes roughly 80 per cent from the province with the remaining 20 per cent from Manitoba Hydro, Loney said.

Much of the insulation in older and low-income housing isn’t up to par with modern standards and is more costly to heat than necessary. Fixing that is one division of BUILD’s work; the other is plumbing. The organization also installs low-flow toilets and replaces showerheads – just about anything that will reduce utility bills.

Exactly how much do these home improvements lighten the bills? On average, the retrofits save residents about $500.

“It’s not unheard of for people to save $300 to $700 dollars a year [on heating and water bills],” Loney said.

To qualify for the services, residents must be low income as defined by the LICO (low-income cut-off) line. For a household of four, for example, that would be a maximum annual household income of $51,500.

Up to this point, BUILD has done about 1,500 retrofits.

These are mostly in low income, inner-city neighbourhoods such as West Broadway, Spence and the North End.

Anyone interested in getting their home retrofitted or getting involved with Warm Up Winnipeg can call 943-5981 or visit http://www.Warmupwinnipeg.ca.

Published in Volume 64, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 3, 2009)

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