The Nevada Housing Division has been recognized for special effectiveness in weatherizing the houses of low-income Nevadans in a program funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But a companion program to train new weatherization workers, administered by the Department of Employee Training and Rehabilitation, has put few trainees to work.
Barely half the 375 persons who completed the training were working in the field in September. The training cost averaged $9,162 for each person so employed.
A DETR spokesperson, Mae Worthey, claimed 191 were employed at that time. But the Review-Journal learned from other sources that many of those were already working in weatherization, and took the training only because a state law required that at least half the employees, on government-funded weatherization projects, complete the DETR training program.
Rather than displacing experienced workers with new trainees, weatherization contractors sent some of their more experienced employees to be formally trained in tasks with which they were already familiar.
DETR spent $1.75 million on the training program -- $594,650 through the Associated Builders and Contractors; $555,800 through Truckee Meadows Community College; $256,375 through Easter Seals of Southern Nevada, and $343,175 to CHR, another Las Vegas nonprofit. Besides the $1.75 million passed through to trainers, DETR also kept $97,500 for administering the program.
Three of the four agencies claim to have met or well exceeded the number they were supposed to train, and the other, CHR, came close. But the cost effectiveness of their training programs varied widely.
The most effective in training people who actually ended up working in the field appeared to be Associated Builders and Contractors, an organization whose members are nonunion contractors of all types, including weatherization.
"We were to train 103 but exceeded that," said ABC vice president Michelle Daugherty. "There were 136 who completed the training, but we actually placed 141 in jobs, because there were some who found jobs before they completed our training, yet got the jobs on the basis of what they already learned, so we count those as placed." Average cost of completed training through AGC was $4,372.
Truckee Meadows Community College of Reno administered a program that was divided among its own staff and those of Great Basin Community College in Elko and the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas. The two Northern Nevada colleges used their own classrooms and equipment, and some of their own instructors, while CSN farmed out much of the training to the Laborers International Union Local 872.
Dr. Barbara Wright-Sanders said their contract with DETR called for only 97 to be trained, but 207 actually completed training, because of great demand, especially in Southern Nevada. Only four were trained at Great Basin, 35 at Truckee Meadow' home campus, and 168 through the CSN/Laborers Union program.
However, only 27 of the 207 actually found work in the field, Wright-Sanders said. This program stretched its training dollars a long way, averaging $2,685 per student, but the cost per job placement works out to $20,585.
CHR was supposed to train 59, but two dropped out of the training, said Tyrone Anderson, CHR's program director. "At last count 34 were employed in weatherization," Anderson said. The average cost comes out to $6,020 per person trained, $10,093 per job filled.
Bryan Patchett, CEO of Easter Seals, said his agency asked to be included in the DETR program because it has long experience in job training. "And we wanted to be in it to make sure that people with disabilities would have access to those jobs in so far as they can do them," he said. "But because we couldn't give preference to anybody, the vast majority of those we trained don't have disabilities.
"The tough part wasn't finding people to train; it was figuring out how to be fair about selecting 45 to train out of 80 or 90 who wanted training," Patchett said. "Our selection was based on test scores and experience."
The average cost of training came out to $5,697. Patchett was unable to say how many of his 45 got jobs in the field, but suspects it wasn't many. "Some of that will change over the next few months and years as more federal money starts flowing," he said. "There is a need for weatherization, but there's no mandate to do it."
Daugherty said the reason ABC was most successful in placing those it trained was, indirectly, because nonunion contractors do most weatherization work.
Some of the demand for the program was created when state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, pushed through Senate Bill 152, which required that at least half of those doing stimulus-funded weatherization work in Nevada have completed training programs.
"The contractors already doing the work certainly didn't want to displace experienced workers to meet that goal," Daugherty said. "So they sent a lot of their workers to get training."
One contractor, who asked not to be named, confirmed her firm sent experienced workers for the training. They will use them as lead workers, showing the ropes to a few new hires who also were trained in the ABC program.
Warren Hardy, a former state senator who is a lobbyist for ABC, said it's widely believed that his organization of nonunion contractors didn't like SB152, and saw it as an attempt to help unions make inroads into the weatherization industry. "But we really think it's a good law; the Legislature had the right intentions, and Horsford made it very clear the intention was not to displace workers. We think the program has been a success."
Yet ABC, the most successful of the four agencies at putting to work those it trained, may not be allowed to participate in the next level of training. It is widely believed, Hardy said, the next Legislature will add a requirement that weatherization contractors employ some workers trained in apprenticeship programs, which have a much larger component of on-the-job training than the programs run this year. Yet in August, the State Apprenticeship Council denied approval to ABC to offer an apprenticeship program in weatherization, citing a "lack of need."
Daugherty said ABC will appeal the denial, and that federal courts have already ruled state bodies regulating apprenticeships may not prohibit such a program based on perceived lack of need.
No such "lack of need" was cited earlier this year when the same board approved a new apprenticeship program to be offered through Laborers Local 872. After ABC's virtually identical program was denied, ABC President Clara Andrioloa sent a letter to Horsford, and members of the Legislative Commission and the Interim Finance Committee, accusing the apprenticeship board of pro-union bias, and calling upon the Legislature to amend SB152 to "eliminate the potential for the political gamesmanship that has been so obviously displayed by certain members of the State Apprentice Council."
Local 872 officers did not return calls asking for comment.
In the effort to actually weatherize houses, news has been brighter. The low-income weatherization program, still being criticized in late 2009 for getting off to a slow start and high projected costs, hit its stride in early 2010 and outdistanced its goals for the fiscal year. Nevada was supposed to weatherize at least 1,950 homes in the first fiscal year of the program, ending June 30; it actually did 3,753, exceeding its goal by 92 percent. The high productivity was recognized in July by a letter of commendation from the program's parent agency, the U.S. Department of Energy.
Moreover, the high numbers of weatherized homes resulted from lower-than-expected costs per home. The average cost per household was about $3,020, calculated from the expenditures and performance figures released by the Housing Division. About $5,935 per house had been budgeted statewide.
Dr. Hilary Lopez, chief of federal programs for the Housing Division, said the division awards weatherization funds to nonprofit organizations which administer weatherization on the local level. The local nonprofits determine the eligibility of applicants for assistance, hire contractors to do the work, and are responsible for quality assurance. "But we also have our own people who sample the work. We were required to do 5 percent and we actually did 10 percent." Field auditors inspect the work and if problems are found, verify what corrections were made.
One of the most efficient performers was HELP of Southern Nevada, a nonprofit organization which has been involved in weatherization for nearly 20 years, but stepped up its program under the stimulus grants.
Carlotta Herrera, grants coordinator for HELP, said the organization's regular weatherization program treated 753 homes in 2009-2010. But the stimulus program enabled HELP to weatherize another 2,695. The latter figure was more than double the 1,222 quota set for HELP in the program alone.
"We were able to do more because the average cost turned out to be less than we had estimated," she said, explaining that actual costs are never known until workers assess what has to be done at an individual home.
HELP had been using five contractors and began using three more because of the additional work, she said.
New guidelines have made weatherization available to more homeowners and renters, she said. The income cutoff point, formerly 150 percent of the poverty level, is now 200 percent. The 200 percent income level now stands at $21,660 for a one-person household and $29,140 for two people. Most of the single-family homes weatherized are rental units; only 345 were owner-occupied. The totals included 206 mobile homes that were weatherized.
Besides HELP, other agencies which weatherized homes in Nevada were City of Henderson Neighborhood Services; Community Services Agency in Washoe County; the Nevada Rural Housing Authority in Carson City, Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties, and the Rural Nevada Development Corporation in the balance of the state. Among them they weatherized 1,058 dwellings, at a cost of $4.1 million. All of them exceeded their production goals and came in at or under budget, the Housing Division said.
Budgeted for $11.6 million in fiscal year 2010, the weatherization program was allocated $21.4 million for fiscal year 2011, now under way. The work is being administered by the same subgrantees, with the addition of the Urban League of Southern Nevada, which was awarded a grant of $1.7 million to weatherize 280 homes in North Las Vegas.
Budget projections call for weatherizing 5,559 homes across the state in the next three years, at an estimated cost of $37.9 million. Sue Martin, a grants and program analyst for the state, says the Housing Division is proud of putting much more of that money into actual housing improvements than some states do. Federal guidelines permit a state to retain as much as 25 percent for administration, training, and technical assistance, but Nevada expects to do it for about 11.
Contact A.D. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0270.