June 6, 2022
Small changes make big differences. That’s the mantra of Daniel Wagner, project coordinator for Westown Community Development Corporation (WCDC), a small non-profit agency focused on boosting the lives of the approximately 7,000 Westown residents in City of Cleveland’s 11th ward.
In a community where approximately 60 percent of residents live below the Federal Poverty Level, a new energy-efficient fridge can mean the difference between paying or failing to pay the electricity bill. Building a new, sturdy porch can reduce the chances of a senior resident getting hurt or falling. Installing a new furnace can mean finally having a warm home in winter.
“Not having heat can end you,” says Wagner. “My hope is that by helping revitalize the neighborhood through things like home improvements and getting people more energy efficient homes, we can cut down on how much power people are using, which can eliminate some of that burden and make people’s lives easier.”
In 2021, the WCDC happened upon the Greenlink Equity Map, a.k.a. GEM, through work with the City of Cleveland. Wagner’s background in mapping helped him recognize the tool’s ability to eliminate the usually arduous process of digging up and organizing data. What once took hours to days, now would take minutes, explained Wagner.
“It has been a game changer for me when you need quick data,” Wagner added.
Greenlink Analytics provided WCDC free access to GEM through its grants program focusing on small nonprofits working to advance equity. Wagner uses the tool for many of the organization’s programs, including the weatherization project that modifies residential homes to reduce energy consumption and optimize energy efficiency.
Wagner targeted the neighborhoods where energy burden and income stress were highest and determined which homes most needed to be weatherized. The organization then uses a third party with a list of contractors to do home repairs, replace appliances, install new electrical boxes, update AC units and windows, and many other improvements that reduce bills, increase efficiency, and make life easier. Eighty two households have gone through the program under Wagners’s guidance, a process that takes approximately 6-9 months.
“Our previous old furnace was a giant energy cost burden on my family,” says Westown resident Pamela Rose. “Our new, energy efficient one has helped lower our bills and better heat our house and we would have never been able to replace it without the weatherization program.”
Wagner also utilizes GEM for other programs, such as a collaboration with Clevelawn, a company helping returning citizens learn carpentry, which provides up to $2,000 in repair for low income people and families. The data has also helped WCDC negotiate on behalf of the community for the city-wide Internet for All initiative, because good data tells a compelling and undeniable story.
[Before and after photo of a home in Westown, courtesty of WCDC]
This is the epitome of thinking big, but starting small.
“I work in the micro,” says Wagner. “These folks matter as much as in the richer neighborhood. If we are to be an equal society, everyone deserves a chance.”