Chattanooga Housing Authority setting limits on heating, cooling in effort to save money

Chattanooga Housing Authority setting limits on heating, cooling in effort to save money

December 28th, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

GETTING NEW THERMOSTATS

Special controlled thermostats will be installed at the following sites. Installations take less than a hour, CHA officials said.

East Lake

Emma Wheeler Homes

Mary Walker Towers

Boynton Terrace

Gateway Tower

Missionary Heights

Glenwood East

Glenwood North

Woodside

Source: Chattanooga Housing Authority

The Chattanooga Housing Authority is installing regulators that will prevent public housing residents from setting thermostats higher than 75 degrees in the winter and lower than 70 in the summer.

The thermostat program is expected to help save CHA $100,000 a year and is being carried out under the terms of an energy performance contract with Honeywell.

But the vice president of one residents' council said the thermostat controls could lead to greater costs and even bigger problems.

"You didn't stop to think about the consequences with these elderly folk," said Joe Clark, vice president of the resident council at Boynton Terrace Apartments, CHA's largest high rise for the elderly.

He said elderly residents blast the heat to compensate for cold drafts in the hallway or coming through their windows into their rooms.

The first thing an elderly person is going to do if they can't heat their room using the thermostat is turn on the stove and open the door so the heat will circulate, he said. That could lead to fires and cause the stove to burn out sooner. He said other residents may opt to buy electric heaters, which can pose a fire risk.

Officials say the thermostat controls are necessary as the housing authority tries to be the best possible steward of the public money it receives.

"As our other funding sources for performing capital projects have been reduced, the housing authority has had to become increasingly creative to obtain the resources we need to keep our affordable housing in good shape and available for people who need it," Mike Sabin, CHA's director of low-income public housing, wrote in an emailed response to questions about the thermostats.

Installation of the thermostat controls has begun and is expected to continue well into 2014. Eventually, hundreds of residents will be affected, though not all housing sites are included.

Some, such as College Hill Courts -- CHA's largest site -- are excluded from the project because they have electric heat and those units are not compatible with the thermostats.

Instead of focusing on thermostat controls, Clark said the authority should have focused on putting insulation around the apartment windows and closing gaps near apartment doors so the rooms would stay warm without having to raise the thermostat.

Resident Joe Clark pulls open one of his apartment windows and shakes it to show how it rattles Friday at the Boynton Terrace Apartments public housing complex in Chattanooga. Clark says that there is no insulation around the windows of his eighth floor apartment, and that many of the complex's doors have gaps to the floor that allows air to blow in.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

"Air is blowing under the door and through the window," he said. "Windows rattle like 40 going north. Is that supposed to happen? I'm not the only one. All of the insulation is gone in these apartments. You can see an inch and a half under the door."

Housing authority officials said a variety of other energy-saving work will take place, with the major focus being at Emma Wheeler Homes. Units there are being renovated, and Honeywell is providing new stoves and refrigerators along with electrical services.

"The Energy Performance Contract generates funding that allows us to get additional needed repairs and equipment replacements done at many of our public housing sites," Sabin said.

The project has also pointed out to residents the need for better communication.

Boynton Resident Council President Bennie Haynes said the authority should consult with residents when making plans that will affect them. He said residents knew nothing about the thermostat controls until Sabin talked to them about them this month. And when some residents expressed concern, Sabin told residents it was a done deal.

"We have to do it because there is no other source of funding for these type of brick-and-mortar projects. Our capital funds from [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] are decreasing," Sabin said Friday in a phone interview.

Sabin met with residents on Dec. 9. On Dec. 13, a memo about the thermostats was placed on the management office door.

Haynes said there should have been a meeting allowing residents to give input about the thermostats during the planning stages.

"Don't wait until the final stage," he said. "Let us hear the process so we can give feedback."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or call 757-6431.