Here in Marion County, we have some wonderful, hardworking people. But every day, I see members of my congregation and the greater community struggle to pay their bills, get food on the table, and support their families. A large part of this burden is tied to poor housing conditions.
Many families live in manufactured homes or houses that were built decades ago, sometimes using lumber from older buildings. As these homes age, families are often faced with crumbling floors and ceilings, causing major safety issues. In addition, these homes are also very energy-inefficient. Few houses have adequate insulation, and as they shift over time, the doors, floors and windows pull away from the frames. Heated air in winter and cooled air in summer leak out the cracks. And when a family’s financial resources are strained by paying high energy bills, they have to make tough decisions — like choosing between buying medicine or running the air conditioner. When it’s close to 100 degrees with high humidity, air conditioning isn’t just for comfort. It’s also a health concern.
You see, everything is connected. And fixing up just part of the house or replacing some light bulbs isn’t enough. Instead, we need to do everything we can to fix the whole house to make it safe, healthy and affordable.
Below are profiles of some of the families from just one county, Marion County, who would benefit from this approach:
[If someone could come in and replace the roof and floors], it would mean the world. I’m praying every day that something will come my way. — Helen Gause
On a hot afternoon in June, Helene watches her grandchildren, Ty Harper and Janiah Davis, play in the living room. The doors are open to help circulate the air while her two, partially functioning window units sit idly. Even though central air is on her wish list of home improvements, Helene’s top priorities are repairing the roof and floor of her home. The roof leaks when it rains, and she often fears that her grandchildren could fall through the floor. Helene recognizes that these structural issues also contribute to her high electricity bill, about $150 each month, but she does not have the financial means to pay for the necessary repairs — especially all at once.
You can look and see the little cracks around the window. You can feel the air coming through. — Helen Hemingway
Harry and Helen Hemingway have been living in their home since 1970. In 2008, the organization Safe Home replaced six of their ten windows to improve the home’s energy efficiency. But warm air in winter and cool air in summer continue to leak through the cracks around the old windows, the roof and the doors. Harry and Helen pay an electric bill between $200 and $500 each month.
The gas bill this summer was about $2,000 a month. — Etta Grane
Johnny and Etta Grane have lived in their home for nearly 50 years. Shortly after the recession, Santee Electric replaced eight of their ten windows and built them a new roof with insulation. Johnny and Etta said it helped, but their monthly electric bill is a significant financial burden. They use propane gas to heat their home and central air to cool it.
I don’t know if he can’t stand all that air or if he’s just looking out for the bill. — Mamie Robinson
Calvin Woodberry and his sister Mamie grew up in a home not far from where he lives now. His electric bill in summer is relatively low, but in winter, he pays about $400 for propane gas. The windows and roof need to be replaced, but as a person who uses a wheelchair, his main priority is repairing the floors. Calvin has not participated in any of the local home improvement programs.
Shortly after these photos were taken, Calvin passed away.
The families described above are just a few of the thousands of South Carolina residents who need our help to live safely and comfortably in their own homes. Every day, I am reminded of the need in my community. I know the situation here is not unique to Marion County or even our state. But as South Carolina develops its new energy plan, I am hopeful. We have an opportunity to create programs that could help low-income families live in safe, energy-efficient homes. We can become a proud example in the Southeast and across the nation, for all states striving to create their own pathways toward a cleaner energy future.