COMMENTARY: Help making homes healthier


Half of the homes in Bennington County were built before 1970; half of those were built before 1939. Many were built in the 19th century and many, in this weather, feel as though they haven't had much attention since then.

Of course they have, but in any house there is always work to be done. Some of the most daunting problems have a direct effect on health and safety issues but are the hardest to know how to remedy.

The really scary elements that threaten our homes are the invisible ones; air quality from volatile organic compounds (VOC's) such as formaldehyde; biocides that we used to use to treat for mold and insects; radiation from radon gas and its daughters, mostly airborne but also found in water. The standard ones we know are no less threatening and certainly no less daunting to fix: excess cold, drafts, mold, lead, asbestos, faulty stairs or porches, lack of lighting, vulnerability to intruders.

NeighborWorks of Western Vermont has an ongoing program with new resources to help with loans and, in some cases, grants to fix the problems in our homes. The federal Healthy Homes Initiative helps families avoid common home health and safety hazards. Last year, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board received $1.7 million from this program for the Healthy Homes Vermont Project. Bennington County residents can access these funds through NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, one of five NeighborWorks nonprofits in the state to receive funding through the program.

With this new program, we will be able to give matching grants to qualified households who need healthy and safety repairs. Many of our programs, though not all, are specifically aimed at supporting low-income households. We recognize that providing help to families, elderly residents and anyone else who just plain needs it, is help to all of us and to our community.

Our offer is simple: We will help you with construction oversight and affordable loans to improve your home. We do this with state and federal support and in partnership with our local banking community. We do it because so many of us are unsure of what should be done and how it should look and because so many of us cannot afford to lay down the cash for a big project even if it is a good investment in our property and our health.

If you, or someone you know, have been unable to proceed with health and safety updates in your home, call us. We will determine if you qualify for this program based on income (generally the household income should be at or below 80 percent of area median income). One of our construction managers will come to your house to do a complete inspection, looking for any of the 29 possible qualifying problems that these funds should address.

You and the construction manager will come up with a project that addresses your needs. The construction manager will help you find a qualified reliable contractor and will oversee the project so you can be confident that the work will meet your standards.

You, your children, your parents and your grandparents deserve to live in healthy, safe and efficient homes and we are willing to help if you would like help. To get started, or simply find out more, visit or call NeighborWorks of Western Vermont toll free at 877-205-1147, ext. 210.

Ludy Biddle is executive director of NeighborWorks of Western Vermont.


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