Did Millions Of Dollars For Weatherization Program Pay Off?
By Jennifer Kraus Investigative Reporter
Last year Tennessee received more than $99 million in federal stimulus money to weatherize homes across the state.
Here in Nashville, MDHA has used its share of that money to fix up more than a thousand homes for low-income, elderly, and disabled folks.
But now a months-long NewsChannel 5 investigation is raising questions about the weatherization program and whether it's really making a difference.
Want to know how your tax dollars are being spent? Contractors are installing new windows, adding insulation, caulking cracks and putting in energy-efficient light bulbs.
But, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has found the weatherization program in Nashville isn't working for everyone.
D'Andrea Oglesby lives near the fairgrounds. After she had her home weatherized, both her energy usage and her power bills went way up.
"I'm thinking how does that happen? What happened?" she recalled.
But MDHA, which runs the program, insists these federally-funded repairs are not only helping homeowners, they're also putting people to work.
But in one case, a contractor installed a heating and air-conditioning unit in a kitchen and duct-taped the cord to the thermostat.
MDHA Project Manager Roger Layman admits it was a job that had to be totally redone.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "How do you wind up with a contractor who does this kind of work?"
Layman carefully thought for a moment and then replied, "Some contractors just need to have a little more oversight."
It turns out, since MDHA got the stimulus money for the weatherization work, the agency has gone from doing a hundred homes a year to more than a thousand. And, that's meant it's had to hire a lot more contractors, some of whom, we found, have very little experience as a licensed contractor.
And, after we analyzed MDHA's files, we found some of the contractors are failing to do the work they're supposed to or they're failing to do it right.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates ran down a list of problems we found in the files.
"Those are not small things," we said to Layman.
"Absolutely not," he agreed.
"That's why we have re-inspections."
But MDHA's own records show inspectors are finding problems 20 percent of the time.
"That's one out of five homes is failing their inspections," NewsChannel 5 Investigates pointed out.
"That would mean we have one out of five that we'd like extra work done," Layman explained.
We also discovered that it's not just contractors without experience. MDHA has also hired auditors who recommend the repairs in each home. And MDHA admits that many of them have never done this type of work.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked MDHA Assistant Director Angie Hubbard, "So people are walking off the street and in a week, they are trained to be energy auditors?"
"That's how it was set up," she confirmed.
But is that enough? In one case, an auditor came up with a list of repairs. But when the contractor got to the house, he found the home needed at least five more rather major improvements.
Roger Layman tried to explain how that could happen.
"The auditor may have missed it. I can't answer to that," Layman said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates then said, "It sounds like the auditor missed a lot."
Layman agreed, "It did sound that way, didn't it?"
The auditors use an air test to help determine what sort of weatherization work should be done. And, when the work is finished, the house is re-tested and the numbers are supposed to be significantly lower. But, we found in some cases, readings have instead gone way up and MDHA has done nothing.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Layman, "You don't always go back? It's not standard procedure that when the numbers go way up, you go back and say, 'What went wrong here?'"
"No, it's not," Layman answered.
And remember D'Andrea Oglesby?
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked her, "What happened when you opened that first bill?"
"I was like, 'Wow! No! This is not my bill!'" she recalled.
The weatherization program's own promotional materials suggest that homeowners can "save money on energy costs" and "lower their utility bills."
But that didn't happen at Oglesby's home.
"And, I'm sure I'm not the only one," she wondered aloud.
Roger Layman admits, "It know it seems strange."
But he can't explain Oglesby's sudden increase in energy consumption or even tell us if this has happened to anyone else.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "How much energy are you saving folks?"
"I couldn't answer that question. You'd have to ask TVA and folks," he answered.
You see, once contractors are done with a home, so is MDHA. It turns out, they don't do any sort of follow-up to determine whether the program's really working.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "So how can you say, 'We're making a huge difference?"
And, Layman had no answer.
Now with the summer and winter we've had, you might expect D'Andrea Oglesby's bills to be higher. But, with NES's help, we analyzed her power usage since her home was weatherized and found her bills have gone up significantly more than most other NES customers. And in some months, while most customers' bills dropped, hers still went up.
So is she the only one having this problem?
Before now, it was hard to say. Because of federal privacy rules, MDHA wouldn't give us the names or addresses of anyone else who'd had their home weatherized through the program. But because of this story, we are now hearing from others who say she is not the only one.
And if you've had your home weatherized through the state's weatherization program and had problems, email us at email@example.com or call our tip line at (615) 244-NEWS.
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