In today’s world, we constantly hear talk about “affordable” housing. While affordability is crucial to solving any regional housing problem, I believe that “livable” housing is often overlooked. Much of our low-income housing stock is in a sad state of decline. Roofs are leaking. Windows and doors are letting valuable energy escape. Insulation is marginal at best, especially in the case of mobile homes. Who is tackling this problem?

When I tried finding organizations who were tackling this problem, the options were few and very limited in scope. So, in April, the Cherryland board of directors decided to make a big commitment toward the solution via a $100,000 annual donation for three years to Habitat for Humanity—Grand Traverse Region. These funds will be paid out quarterly and will be used for improving the building envelope of the homes of low-income Cherryland Electric Cooperative members.

The money will not affect our 2019 operating expenses. The funds will be taken from unclaimed capital credits which sit in equity on our balance sheet. After every capital credit retirement, 10% of the money on average goes unclaimed when we cannot find members who have moved off our system. Per state law, we are not allowed to do anything with the money for five years. After that, the funds become permanent equity that benefits the financial status of the cooperative.

While this is our most significant use of these funds in Cherryland history, the impact on our balance sheet will be minimal due to the strong financial position of your cooperative. The important impact lies in the improvements that can be made to the building envelope of mobile homes and stick-built homes that have grown old over past decades.

The obvious question is: Why? Well, the building envelope is probably the most neglected piece of the overall energy conservation puzzle. When you look at our state-mandated program of handing out LED bulbs, changing out industrial motors and replacing kitchen appliances, improvements in home insulation, doors, windows, and roofs are given minuscule incentives. Where does all the energy leak out of an older home? Right, it is going out the doors, windows, and roofs.

Why does CEC care about sealing up homes that are most likely using natural gas or propane for heat? The first reason is that it is simply the right thing to do for those who don’t have the means to do it themselves.

After the right thing, it becomes common sense. If we can save a low-income homeowner money on their heating bill, it becomes easier for them to pay their electric bill. We may even prevent them from having their gas shut off for non-payment, eliminating the need to plug in an electric radiant heater that only compounds the financial problems in the home.

When Habitat for Humanity told me of their plans to add building envelope improvement projects to their offerings in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, and Kalkaska counties, they became the partner Cherryland has been seeking for a long time. Habitat brings a volunteer base, building expertise and additional fundraising ability to the problem of deteriorating building envelopes.

Your board and management did not want to hand off a problem. We wanted to be an active part of the long-term solution. We went so far as to consider forming a subsidiary and doing building envelope work in-house. With Habitat, we have to neither reinvent the wheel nor compete in a tight market for raising funds. Thus, the $100,000 became a better solution for making a significant commitment to a community issue.

Everyone at Cherryland is proud to be working with Habitat for Humanity to bring this important program to reality. We look forward to working side by side with them to make a difference in improving the building envelope in homes across our service territory.

Cherryland members that are interested in participating in the Priority Home Repair program can learn more on Habitat for Humanity – Grand Traverse Region’s website. Potential participants are subject to Habitat’s income qualification standards.