Politics & Government

Stimulus money goes to work in Thurston

YELM – Evan Lamborn trimmed sheet metal to craft a piece of vent for a bathroom fan in the back of the old yellow-and-white mobile home.

Out front near the steps, Jordan Howden cut metal screen to fit over gaps around the building’s foundation, keeping out what he called “critters” that might haul off freshly installed floor insulation.

Another worker was inspecting the mobile home’s metal roof, and others tried to dry out the rafters of a back bedroom, preparing the more than 30-year-old dwelling for a new ceiling, insulation, a foam-roof overlay and lots of venting.

This is one face of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus program as it unfolds in its early stages in Thurston County. Overall, the national $787 billion stimulus including tax cuts is supposed to generate or retain 75,000 Washington jobs with its more than $7 billion in state aid – including money for health care, transportation projects, Hanford nuclear clean-up, energy research and other fields.

Lamborn and Howden are among the half-dozen construction-related workers hired by the Community Action Council for Lewis, Mason and Thurston Counties, which is training them for home-weatherization work that could double in scope locally later in the summer.

“It was real tough for a while,” Howden said of a job hunt that landed him in the action council position that is paying him nearly $15 an hour. “I searched real hard for a long time. Then this came through.”

More than 150 people applied for the council’s jobs, including people from Wyoming and Arizona, according to Carl Raben, the action council’s assistant director of housing programs.

Howden, who is in his 20s, said the pay is “decent” and helps him provide for his two children, but he’s looking at it as a big stepping stone.

“It’s the best career opportunity I’ve had. I’ve been in construction my whole life,” he said.

Statewide, nearly 6,940 homes could be upgraded with insulation and other weatherization through March 2012 using the state’s expected $59 million allotment of weatherization aid.

That includes about 387 units in Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties and 813 units in Pierce County through Pierce County Community Action and the Metropolitan Development Council, said Mark Porter, spokesman for the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development’s housing-improvement unit.

All of those projects could generate about 250 jobs per year across the state, Porter estimated.

The action council is putting its new hires through rigorous training that covers many aspects of weatherizing and on-the-job experience over six months, Raben and program supervisor Sam Dougherty said.

It certainly fits in with efforts by Gov. Chris Gregoire and Democrats in the Legislature to expand the number of “green,” or clean energy-related, jobs. But it’s a small fraction of new jobs that Jill Satran, the governor’s overseer of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, said have been created statewide.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation has about 400 new jobs and retained 300 additional workers, Satran said, with approximately $2 billion in stimulus money devoted to cleanup.

And the state Department of Transportation has about 400 more jobs statewide, Satran said.

The federal weatherization money works out to about $6,500 per home, but the typical upgrade can cost more. An upgrade usually starts with a high-tech energy audit to detect where heat loss is occurring and how much, and it can lead to floor insulation, ceiling insulation, sealing of heating ducts, a furnace tune-up, bath fan and air circulation fixes, and caulking of cracks that let heat seep out.

Weatherization help is available to people whose incomes are no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty line, which is about $13,000 for a single person and $26,500 for a family of four. Under the federal stimulus rules, some people with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty line can be eligible for help, although priority will go to people with lower incomes.

In the case of the mobile home worked on Friday at the Nisqually Pines development near Yelm, the owner is a nursing assistant who was unable to afford the repairs. The structure looked worn from the outside, had leaks in its roof and had mold damage inside from leaks and poor ventilation.

Raden said the improvements should add 10 to 15 years of life to the structure, which represents affordable housing for its resident.

It’s unknown how much work private contractors will get once the federal money begins to flow.

Erik Olsson of Olsson Insulation of Olympia, whose company is under contract to insulate and repair the Nisqually Pines home, is among those hoping to get more work.

“We’re getting geared up for it,” he said, adding that he was servicing equipment and just finishing the hire of a new employee.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688


Related stories from The Olympian