By Vanessa Ho, Seattlepi.comPublished: Aug 16, 2011
Last year, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced the city had won a coveted $20 million federal grant to invest in weatherization. The unglamorous work of insulating crawl spaces and attics had emerged as a silver bullet in a bleak economy – able to create jobs and shrink carbon footprint – and the announcement came with great fanfare.
McGinn had joined Vice President Joe Biden in the White House to make it. It came on the eve of Earth Day. It had heady goals: creating 2,000 living-wage jobs in Seattle and retrofitting 2,000 homes in poorer neighborhoods.
But more than a year later, Seattle's numbers are lackluster. As of last week, only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program. Many of the jobs are administrative, and not the entry-level pathways once dreamed of for low-income workers. Some people wonder if the original goals are now achievable.
"The jobs haven't surfaced yet," said Michael Woo, director of Got Green, a Seattle community organizing group focused on the environment and social justice.
"It's been a very slow and tedious process. It's almost painful, the number of meetings people have gone to. Those are the people who got jobs. There's been no real investment for the broader public."
Half the funds are reserved for financing and engaging homeowners in Central and Southeast Seattle, a historically underserved area. Most of the jobs are expected to come from this sector.
"A triple win," is how Biden characterized it.
By the time Seattle won the award, homeowners were battered by unemployment and foreclosures. The long-term benefits of energy upgrades lacked the tangible punch of a new countertop. And the high number of unemployed construction workers edged out new weatherization installers for the paltry number of jobs.
"Really, we couldn't have rolled out this program at a worse time," said Greenwich, who had helped write the city's grant proposal.