Cheryl is a home daycare provider living and working in the North Austin neighborhood of Chicago. She was born in Birmingham, Alabama and moved to Chicago when she was 19 years old. Cheryl’s home is a Chicago bungalow that was built in 1916. This type of brick construction home was incredibly popular in the early 20th century, providing homes to Chicago residents across the whole city. Like the bungalows, there are many other types of single-family homes in Chicago that are nearly a hundred years old and are rich in architectural history. In fact, about 49% of all single-family units in the city were built before 1940. These older homes were made to last—today they make up an important part of the affordable housing stock and are great options for first time homeowners. However, as buildings age they can be difficult to maintain, especially if the house still has some of its original features.
Unaffordable Utility Bills
Like many of us, Cheryl not only thinks about the maintenance of her home, but also about paying her utility bills. She thinks about her family’s energy use when she can. Using less energy is important, but it’s often not enough to keep utility bills affordable, especially when energy prices spike globally. Energy is a basic need for all households and families. When energy prices get to be too high, some families have to make painful trade-offs between paying their utility bills or buying food and medications. In fact, a national survey found that over 25% of U.S. households are forced to limit or go without basic necessities in order to pay their energy bills. Additionally, the onset of the pandemic in 2020 impacted millions of Americans’ ability to work, which only worsened their ability to pay bills. Cheryl, for example, ceased the operation of her daycare during the lockdown, which in turn made it even harder to afford utilities.
Accessing Assistance Programs
For families needing help, support like Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is available and crucial to helping with utility bill payments. However, in Illinois nearly one and a half million households qualified for LIHEAP, but only 15% of them received support in 2021 due to lack of funds. When Cheryl was unable to get bill assistance, she found her own way to manage paying her utility bills. Cheryl also enrolled in a program to replace her old windows and doors that contained lead paint. Older windows are often a source of energy loss at home. When it’s hot outside, heat can seep inside and drive up the temperature. In the winter, the heat can escape the home when trying to warm it. This movement of warm air is responsible for up to 30% of a home’s heating and cooling energy use. When Cheryl had her windows replaced, she was able to conserve some of this energy and also make her utility bills more affordable.