If you or someone in your family have considered seeking help from a government or charitable agency—when unemployed, disabled, or for reasons that might send you to a program for low-income people—then you know how challenging it can be to handle paperwork or even to find the right institute or agency from the crowded “alphabet soup” of acronyms.

Meet Michelle Nochisaki, program coordinator of Marin County’s Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI Marin). It’s her job to wade through the alphabet soup and to make it easier for low-income households get the support they need. Not itself an agency, GHHI Marin is a network of local providers working to make housing healthier, more accessible, and energy-smart. GHHI Marin braids together services from various agencies to create a convenient “one-stop shop” for families and seniors that need help.

Michelle Nochisaki, Grace Peralta of MCE, and Michaela Costes

History of the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative

Now national, the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative was created by the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning in Baltimore, Maryland. Already visiting clients’ homes to remove lead hazards, the Coalition noticed a lot of other issues that families needed help with. Says Nochisaki, “They wondered, ‘Who’s giving this family support to take care of energy efficiency? Who’s assisting with mold or other health and safety hazards?’“

Once they put themselves in the shoes of the client, they realized that programs such as theirs were “siloed,” according to Nochisaki, meaning that separate agencies serving the same people had separate missions, separate funding sources, and separate applications for clients. Even if residents found more than one agency to help them, it meant multiple assessments in the home and multiple days off of work or school. It also meant that work might have been done on the home in an inefficient way. For example, someone charged with removing mold might remove damaged drywall on a wall to do so, but later on, someone charged with improving energy efficiency might need to cut holes in the wall to add insulation. There was no coordination to ensure efficiency.

So the Coalition created the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, a new model helping to improve the built environment for low-income families. It would offer clients one application, one comprehensive assessment of the home as a system, looking for energy inefficiencies, lead, mold, other health and safety issues, hazards that might affect aging in place or cause tripping and falling, and other home rehabilitation issues. They would then create a comprehensive work scope for the built environment out of the single assessment, along with gathering information from the client and involving case workers or medical specialists when necessary.

Research and Pilot Project by Marin Community Foundation

In Marin County, the Marin Community Foundation researched the need for an environmental and health program for housing in Marin County. They contacted GHHI in Baltimore to see if the model would be a good fit. After some analysis, they created Marin GHHI as a pilot project in November 2016. Not in itself an agency, the program does not yet have the comprehensiveness of the Baltimore model, but it does weave together access to many services.

Partners participating in the GHHI network and the services they provide include:

  • MCE (considered the lead agency, it houses the GHHI staff; it also provides energy-efficiency services for multi-family dwellings)
  • Community Action Marin, with CESC as a subcontractor (energy-efficiency improvements for single-family dwellings)
  • Marin Center for Independent Living (housing modifications for independent living and accessibility, including ramps and grab bars)
  • Marin Housing Authority (rental and residential rehabilitation loans, a broad umbrella that can assist with many dwelling structure issues)
  • The Sustainability Department of the Marin County Community Development Agency (acting as a liaison to other available energy-efficiency programs).

The overall goal, says Nochisaki, is to achieve the greatest impact for low-income families with the least burden on them. The program recently hired a staffer, Michaela Costes, to help “align, braid, and coordinate” services through a Strategic Energy Innovations Climate Corps Fellowship. Now approved for additional funding from the Marin Community Foundation, GHHI Marin is developing guidelines and protocols for using the funding to improve coordination and to fill service gaps. “There are so many moving parts,” said Nochisaki. “The most efficient way to use all the services is to coordinate and work together.”

Are you interested in getting an energy assessment for your home? Contact CESC today.