More than a thousand District residents are expected to pack a church tonight to hear Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and ministers from the Washington Interfaith Network announce that they plan to train jobless residents and put them to work weatherizing homes.
In a city where the unemployment rate recently reached 12 percent, the announcement at Covenant Baptist Church east of the Anacostia River is a big deal, organizers said. The network, known as WIN, and the mayor will pledge to weatherize for free between 2,000 and 4,000 homes of low-income residents to cut their energy bills, and it will train and hire up to 700 unemployed residents to do the work.
Rev. Lionel Edmonds, pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church and a co-founder of WIN, said the jobs will pay $13.25 to $25 per hour, depending on the task. The focus of the training by the Laborers International Union, a partner in the effort, "will be installing insulation," Edmonds said. "Even that basic installation will help people save significantly on their energy bill."
The union will recruit workers through a network of 50 churches, community groups and the city Department of Employment Services. The training will run seven days, Edmonds said. Job candidates must undergo drug screens and criminal background checks.
"We will only train folks once we have a job for them," Edmonds said. The jobs will be created by low-income homeowners who sign up to weatherize their homes. Edmonds said the city and churches have a database of thousands of homes in Wards 5, 6,7 and 8 that could use weatherization.
The Sustainable Energy Trust Fund will pay for the weatherization and employment with part of the $20 million it collects yearly from local energy bills. The Property Assessed Clean Energy financing program will allow middle- and upper-middle income residents to borrow up to $10,000 to weatherize their homes.
The city has promised to put unemployed District residents to work at the Convention Center and Nationals Park construction sites in the past only to fall short. The majority of crews at both construction sites were suburban workers; contractors complained that poorly educated city residents could not pass training exams or drug tests.
Edmonds said WIN plans to overcome that problem with strong oversight of contractors. "We will not allow the contractor to skip over District residents," he said. "We prefer contractors who hire in the District. To me, those big employment projects like the convention center and the baseball stadium don't work.
"It's about building relationships in the community and with workers, and that's what we plan to do."
-- Darryl Fears