City Council Plans to Use ARPA Funding to Improve Housing


Photo Courtesy of Cal Ransom

$50,000 will be distributed to POWER to help improve homes of those impacted by COVID-19.

On Feb. 6, Oberlin City Council authorized the allocation of $50,000 from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act to Providing Oberlin With Efficiency Responsibly, a grassroots environmental justice organization. These funds will provide financial assistance for Oberlin residents to weatherize their homes. Households that are eligible will receive financial assistance for structural repairs.

Signed into law March 11, 2021, ARPA provides $350 billion in additional funding for state and local governments. The funding provides an opportunity for local governments to cover temporary shortfalls until economic conditions improve and operations normalize.

POWER was founded in 2008 with a mission to increase the efficiency of homes and small businesses. The organization has a particular focus on Oberlin’s low-income community and priotizes efficiency in a variety of actions: combating climate change, reducing carbon emissions, mitigating residents’ vulnerability to fluctuating temperatures and energy costs, and supporting local jobs.

According to a 2016 housing study, Oberlin has a large amount of old, inefficient housing — more than 50 percent of Oberlin’s owner-occupied housing was built before 1960, and 36 percent was built prior to 1940. Many homes have structural issues that need to be addressed in order to perform weatherization work.

Under the ARPA guidelines, low-income households that have been impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency are eligible for assistance. Home repair and weatherization are among the services for which ARPA funds may be allocated to impacted households.

POWER representatives feel that ARPA funding will enable them to support many more residents that wouldn’t otherwise be eligible. Oberlin Law Director Jon Clark and City Manager Rob Hillard have reviewed this plan and agree that it is an appropriate use of ARPA funds.

“I’m very surprised that the ARPA guidelines allow the city to fund an organization like POWER,” Gregory Jones, an advocate for the organization, said. “This boost allows us to expand services. In Oberlin’s houses, there are issues structurally and it’s a health and safety issue, especially if you’re a senior. Each little thing that we can come up with to make your home safer, comfortable, and cost-effective is what we’re all about. Even though our initial beginning was directed to lowand moderate-income people, it’s grown to the point where we have a sliding scale, and depending on the guidelines, income-wise, we can provide help.”

City Councilmember Kristin Peterson commented on the broader impact of ARPA funding.

“Carbon neutrality and energy efficiency are big picture goals for the City,” Peterson said. “Using ARPA dollars to help with home repairs, in addition to dollars already allocated for weatherization, makes home improvements more affordable and the homes more energy efficient.”