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Chicago Bungalow Grants Could Help Cash-Strapped Chicagoans Stay In Historic Homes (PHOTOS)

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Got a drafty bungalow? A local nonprofit hopes energy-efficient updates can help cash-strapped Chicagoans weather the downturn and keep their historic, low-rise brick homes.

A new round of funding for the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association’s "Energy$avers" Weatherization Program offers grants of up to $4,000 for homeowners seeking to weatherize certified historic bungalows in the city, with a focus on installing attic insulation and sealing cracks, gaps and air pockets endemic to older homes. These repairs could halve the utility bills of some Chicagoans facing foreclosure or otherwise at risk of losing their homes by significantly reducing their heating and air conditioning costs, Faith Rackow, deputy director for the HCBA, told HuffPost Chicago.

These subsidized, energy-efficient repairs mark the completion of a retributive cycle for wasteful and fraudulent practices by utility companies in the Chicago area that began ten years ago. Channeled through the city’s Department of Environment, the Energy$avers grant program relies in part on a People’s Gas settlement fund, Rackow said.

In 2005, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the City of Chicago both filed civil lawsuits against People’s Gas and affiliate North Shore Gas, accusing them of involvement in a “fraudulent scheme with Enron to bilk natural gas customers out of well over $100 million,” according to a 2006 press release from Madigan’s office.

“We allege that from 1999 to 2002, Peoples Energy and Enron lined their pockets with money that consumers should never have paid – money that was made illegally,” Madigan said in the release. “This settlement truly is a major victory for consumers who will see credits in their gas bills and justice in this agreement.”

In addition to credits, refunds and $52.3 million in forgiven outstanding debts, the resulting 2006 settlement established a conservation and weatherization program of more than $25 million for low- and moderate-income households.

Since the settlement was finalized, $2.375 million of that funding has been paid out to the bungalow restoration grant program, said Robyn Ziegler, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office.

The requirement that the settlement funding benefit low- and moderate-income households has taken on significant meaning in light of the economic downturn and foreclosure crisis. Reimbursement funding is scaled based on household income: homes with an annual income between 101-120 percent of the Area’s Median Income (AMI) are eligible for grant funding up to 50 percent of their repair costs, 81-100 percent of AMI earns a 75 percent reimbursement, and households earning 80 percent or less of their neighborhood’s median income can expect their repair costs to be completely covered, according to the HCBA qualifying terms.

“The economy has taken a big toll on all homeowners, not only bungalow owners,” Rackow said. “These measures specifically address energy use, but ultimately [residents’] utility bills can come down, significantly in many cases, by doing these relatively simple energy-efficient measures that we find homeowners typically wouldn’t embark on on their own."

To qualify for grant funding, which includes an energy efficiency assessment and weatherization services, homes have to be certified by the HCBA as Chicago-style bungalows. The association has focused much of their promotional energy on community outreach, Rackow says, since they suspect many qualified homeowners aren't familiar with weatherization resources. They estimate that there are about 80,000 bungalows in the city that could qualify, though currently only 11,000 are certified.

"Historic" bungalows are one-and-one half story brick homes that were rapidly developed between 1910 and 1940, Rackow said, though their heyday was in the 1920s. Chicago's “bungalow belt,” spans the outer ring of the city, running along the North, Northwest, Southwest and South Sides.

"The fact that [these homes] are pushing 100 years old and they’re still standing tells us that they’re still great homes," Rackow said. "We want to help families stay in them by making them energy efficient, and giving them any assistance they need to adapt the home to their needs.”

Homeowners who think their bungalow may qualify for an Energy$avers grant can download an application here.

Tour some historic Chicago bungalows:

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