Betty Durrance Helped by Weatherization

Betty Durrance said her breathing problems used to flare up inside her Hastings home. She didn’t realize that her 30-year-old air conditioning unit was harming the air quality.

“I had real bad breathing problems,” she said.

Then she heard about the weatherization program offered by the St. Johns Housing Partnership. The program helps low-income residents in St. Johns County by making their homes more energy-efficient.

Durrance applied for the program and qualified. Within a few weeks, workers with the housing partnership replaced her air conditioning unit, heater and refrigerator. Now she is having a much easier time breathing in her mobile home.

“I’ve been breathing excellent … that’s why I could kiss ’em,” she said.

The weatherization program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, provides free utility repairs to low-income and elderly homeowners who qualify. Weatherization improves a home’s energy efficiency. That can include replacing appliances or something as simple as replacing caulking or insulation.

Funding for the program will run out in February, but there is still time to apply.

“It can provide real and sustainable help to families,” said Malea Guiriba, who is the outreach coordinator for the program in Hastings.

As temperatures lower and utility bills rise, some people have to choose between buying prescriptions and paying for heating costs.

Weatherization can help because it typically reduces average utility bills from 10 percent to 20 percent, said Bill Lazar, executive director for the St. Johns Housing Partnership.

“In some cases it does come down to dollars and cents,” Lazar said. “We work with a lot of senior citizens on fixed incomes.”

The housing partnership has been able to expand its efforts since the program started in 2009, Lazar said. Their initial contract with the state allowed for eight homes per month. Now, the partnership is weatherizing about 50 to 60 homes per month in the county.

Durrance said buying a new air conditioner and appliances would not have been an option for her without the program.

“No, no way,” she said. “I’m only on Social Security. I’m retired. I can’t work.”

Weatherization has improved her quality of life, and she said she hopes other people will take advantage of the program.

“Anybody that gets the chance to do it should,” she said.