February 5, 2021

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Multnomah County’s Weatherization Program acted quickly to serve low-income homeowners and help small businesses who rely on their contracts with the program to stay afloat.

In March 2020, the program implemented strict standards to protect both residents and employees, including physical distancing, mask-wearing, and cleanliness requirements. They were able to continue meaningful work, even as the pandemic was disrupting daily life. 

Rick Richart, a contractor who works with the program, says the program’s quick thinking helped keep his family business from closing its doors. 

“Multnomah County was the first of the nine or 10 agencies we serve to inspire us and the industry by having the courage to issue work orders and to establish some kind of protocol for how the jobs would be performed on-site to keep all parties safe,” Richart said.

By helping contractors like Richart get back to work, the program also improved community members’ lives by renovating their homes at no cost to them. Renovations help make some homes healthier while saving everyone money by adding energy efficiency and lowering bills. For homeowners like Marilyn Dawkins, those savings help her put food on the table. 

“It’s just a wonderful program,” Dawkins said. “More than wonderful. It’s a blessing. They go through everything in the house. They check everything. Every nook, every corner, underneath. I was shocked.” 

Watch the video to find out more about how the County has served businesses and homeowners throughout COVID-19. 

Hear what other Weatherization clients have to say:

Maricruz Cervantez: “[My kids] haven’t been sick since they came and fixed the house. I haven’t even walked into the E.R. Now we can concentrate more on them than trying to cover this window especially when there’s snow outside.”

Claudia Marron: “When you check your mail, and you see the electrical bill, and it’s so high, it’s very overwhelming.... Now when Lorena, my daughter, comes home from school, she’s not cold. And she likes to spend time here, and she likes to call this place ‘home.’” 

Find out more about other County-sponsored energy protections during COVID-19

Access to electricity and gas during the pandemic is crucial. But even before the pandemic, many in our community were at risk of losing that access. COVID-19 exacerbated that vulnerability by disproportionately impacting the health and incomes of our Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities, and also our low-income communities. As a result, many of the most vulnerable residents in Multnomah County have seen their utility balances grow. 

Multnomah County worked with organizations such as the Citizens' Utility Board, VERDE, the Community Energy Project, and the NW Energy Coalition to advocate for a historic agreement at the Oregon Public Utility Commission that protects energy access for community members impacted by COVID-19. 

The agreement includes customer protections including: 

  • A moratorium on disconnections for gas and electric utilities’ residential customers until at least April 2021 

  • More flexible repayment options for customers carrying a utility balance

  • A two-year reprieve from fees like those associated with disconnection and reconnection. 

Even as the Oregon Public Utility Commission implements that agreement, Multnomah County continues its commitment to protecting energy access for our community.