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Stimulus Weatherization Funds Are Complicated By The Preservation Act

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The federal government is pushing states to comply with the long-standing National Historic Preservation Act, which could, not only complicate and draw out the process of getting homes weatherized, but also actually disqualify some homes from the program. The federal government is pushing states to comply with the long-standing National Historic Preservation Act, which could, not only complicate and draw out the process of getting homes weatherized, but also actually disqualify some homes from the program.
Community Action Agency officials are none too thrilled with the new requirement. Community Action Agency officials are none too thrilled with the new requirement.
So far, $2.8 million dollars has been spent of the $60 million the state's expected to receive in stimulus funding for the program. So far, $2.8 million dollars has been spent of the $60 million the state's expected to receive in stimulus funding for the program.

By Alex Cameron, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- During what's turning out to be an unusually cold winter in the state, there are probably more than just a few Oklahomans wishing they'd had their homes weatherized with some of the federal stimulus money the state received for that purpose.

And, actually, you can still get in line--as long as your home isn't considered historic.

The federal government is pushing states to comply with the long-standing National Historic Preservation Act, which could, not only complicate and draw out the process of getting homes weatherized, but also actually disqualify some homes from the program.

"This is something that is new to the Oklahoma weatherization program," said Marshall Vogts, Weatherization Program Planner for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

At a public hearing this week at the Biltmore Hotel in Oklahoma City, Vogts explained that, to comply with the act, local community action agencies, which administer the program, would be unable to proceed with weatherization work, on any home, without first getting approval from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHIPO).

Community Action Agency officials are none too thrilled with the new requirement.

"To say that we have to do a review of their historical on every single house," said Michael Jones, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Community Action Agencies, "which may involve taking pictures, reviewing the deeds on all these houses -- yes, that could be a bit burdensome."

Jones worries that the requirement will slow the process needlessly, since very few of the homeowners who qualify for the program live in homes that have historic value.

And, Jones explained, "as far as changing the overall structure, we don't do that under the weatherization program, it's not a rehab program."

At Commerce, Vogts said he understands the concern, "but we're going to forge through -- the requirement is not going away. We're going to do everything we can to be in compliance with it."

Still, weatherization work has been going on -- more than 300 homes, in fact, had been completed by the end of 2009. And, despite the new requirement, Vogts said he expects the program will really take off now.

"We've done the training, we've done the hiring, we've done the equipment purchases, so now is when we will really see those dollars hitting the street in a big way."

So far, $2.8 million dollars has been spent of the $60 million the state's expected to receive in stimulus funding for the program. The money made it possible to increase the maximum award per home to $6,500, and to expand the program to cover families with an income up to 200 percent of poverty.

Jeff Schuman, with the Deep Fork Community Action Agency in Okmulgee, says that's a lot of families these days.

"In our area, we're talking mostly rural families, families who are either living right on the edge...or they've lost their job due to the economic conditions we're all experiencing, and they're no longer working at all."

Michael Jones says there are significant waiting lists at all 19 community action agencies across the state.

"I wish we could help every single person," Vogts told us, "and we're gonna do our best, but obviously we can't."

Find out more information about getting stimulus help to weatherize your home.

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