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RENEW + Community Partners: Making Homes Healthier, Safer, and More Energy Efficient

Housing is a human right, and every person deserves to live in quality housing. But many individuals and families in our region contend with costly structural issues, health hazards like asbestos and lead, and energy inefficiencies that they may not even know about and/or don’t have the means to amend on their own.

“I would have had to wait four years to be able to afford a radiator update, exposing myself to potential carbon monoxide,” Irondequoit resident Sara said. “I could have died in my sleep.”

It was the eighth home the first-time buyer had put an offer on that was finally accepted with the stipulation of waiving the home inspection. Sara, at the end of her rope, reluctantly agreed, and after moving in she learned of a dangerous underlying problem: the radiator wasn’t venting to the outside. A friend who does inspections for an energy company detected the issue and recommended she immediately apply for home rehabilitation assistance.


With grants from PathStone and The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority program, plus a 50% match from Rochester ENergy Efficiency and Weatherization (RENEW), Sara was able to have the radiator moved to a safer location in her house. She also received furnace and heat-pump hot water heater upgrades, and air sealing throughout the home to improve energy efficiencies and reduce her gas bill for ongoing savings.

“I never would have thought to ask for help,” Sara said. “I had put everything into the down payment, so it was a huge weight off my shoulders getting support to get the necessary work done and not add to more debt.”

The Ripple Effect of Collective Impact

RENEW began in 2015 as the Rochester Safe + Efficient Homes Initiative, seeded with $1 million in settlement money from the New York State Attorney General. (Since 2019, work has continued under the RENEW name from support of individual donors and funders such as ESL.) RENEW funds weatherization, energy efficiency, health and safety interventions, or the removal of barriers that render a homeowner ineligible for weatherization work, including sewer line or electrical panel replacement, mold remediation, etc.

Its focus is collaborating with community partners, braiding resources, and filling funding gaps for whole-house improvements, along with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Partner organizations bring cases to RENEW, an army of one in Program Director Elizabeth McDade, who advocates for investing in home energy efficiency projects to fight climate change and increase health co-benefits.

Community Partners with RENEW

Action for a Better Community
City of Rochester
Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning
Common Ground Health
Ibero-American Development Corp.
Monroe County Dept. of Public Health
Monroe County Office on Aging
NeighborWorks Community Partners Rochester
PathStone Corporation
Rochester Housing Development Fund Corporation
Sustainable Homes Rochester
Town of Greece
Town of Irondequoit

“I am a convert to this idea of health and housing,” McDade said. “When you look at the ripple effects from this work, it’s not just about putting in insulation in someone’s house. It’s increasing cash flow from reduced energy costs and combating the phenomenon called ‘heat or eat,’ where families have to choose between heating their homes or buying food. If we’re reducing people’s energy costs, we’re making a significant impact for years out.”

Program Director Elizabeth McDade

Investing in and preserving home health is an essential cornerstone and unmet need to combatting poverty and building community-wide economic stability. The benefits extend to preventing home foreclosures, stabilizing neighborhoods, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and creating improved health and wealth outcomes for individuals and families.

Achievement by the Numbers

To date, RENEW and community partners have invested more than $4M into 300 homes of income-eligible owners throughout Rochester, Irondequoit, and Greece. All donations to RENEW are matched 3:1 with partner grant dollars.

  • RENEW clients experience a 20% average savings on energy costs
  • 17% of RENEW clients saw a 30%+ decrease on energy costs
  • RENEW clients experience better physical and mental health outcomes and reduced health costs—100% with pre-existing respiratory conditions report reduced symptoms
  • Estimates show that RENEW’s work will keep more than 3,400 tons of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere

“We make sure we’re putting funds in the right place,” McDade explained. “We know that from our energy-cost audits and project completion reports/after pictures from our partners that the work scope has been met. The truer gauge, really, is that the people talk about feeling healthier, safer, and warmer.”

Who RENEW Serves


Single Woman Head of Household: 62%
Household with Children Under 17: 28%
Older Adults: 18%
Adults with Disabilities: 7%
First-Time Homebuyer: 48%
High School Graduate: 50%
College Degree: 39%


Black: 58%
Hispanic: 16%
White: 23%
Other: 3%

McDade pointed out that many people are struggling because they haven’t had the benefit of access to information or learnings they can model. “People are sensitive about having others come into their home when it’s in bad condition,” she said. “Telling people how to fix their house is an intimate thing. Education and guidance on how to use upgrades is often needed.”

Joanne and her husband Winston bought a century-old house near the Rochester Public Market 33 years ago. They live in the Cape Cod-style home with two of their children and four grandchildren. The house was dilapidated—the roof leaked, the windows were drafty, and siding was needed. It was stressful, depressing, and overwhelming for them because they could not afford the repairs.

They went to NeighborWorks Community Partners Rochester hoping for help to fund a new roof. Beyond their expectations, they learned they qualified for more improvements, including a new furnace, hot water heater, siding, windows, a bathtub surround, and insulation.

“I thought I was dreaming,” Joanne said. “I can still hardly believe the change!”

Now the home is warmer in the winter and, since they live on a busy street, Joanne has noticed that it’s quieter. More importantly, her daughter and granddaughter who have severe asthma and used to make regular trips to the hospital have not gone back since the work was completed.

“Everyone is feeling much more confident and upbeat,” Joanne said. “Especially the younger ones—they see that change is possible, that if you’re in a situation it doesn’t mean you’re always going to live that way.”

Replacing Obstacles with Solutions

Identifying barriers and providing solutions are what make RENEW’s efforts successful. It’s now supporting a pilot project with roofs because insurance companies are canceling homeowner policies if roof conditions are poor. Forced insurance policies can then be required at a higher rate, creating a downward financial spiral that can cause added stress to individuals and families.

“They’re doing it through Google maps and driving around neighborhoods,” McDade said. “Then homeowners are getting notices stating if they don’t get the roof fixed within six weeks, their insurance will be cancelled and that just snowballs.”

For example, 80-year-old Delma lives on a fixed income. Her home in the city needed numerous crucial repairs to make it habitable. Holes in her roof had gotten so large and the disrepair of the second floor was so severe, she was forced to live in two rooms on the first floor. As a result, she received a cancellation notice for her homeowner’s insurance policy.

Delma was referred to PathStone by Action for a Better Community (ABC). She qualified for weatherization work through ABC, but due to the condition of the roof, they were unable to do the work. PathStone worked with NYS Affordable Housing Corporation and the NYS Housing Trust Fund Corporation/RESTORE to find funding for a new roof, insulation, windows, interior repairs and exterior siding, but they couldn’t fund all the critical repairs. RENEW provided the remaining amount. The roof was replaced with lighter colored, heat-reflective shingles, and ABC then finished the weatherization work.

It’s the open communication between RENEW partners and flexibility of RENEW bridge funding to remove obstacles that enable the full scope of projects like these to get done.

“This is great work with endless benefits,” McDade reinforced. “I take such pride in knowing we got all these groups to work together. And it’s because of the strong connections and relationships within The Community Foundation, the Monroe County Health Department, contractors, and our Community Partners that it continues to work.”

See if you Qualify

Homeowners can check to see if they qualify by scheduling a free energy audit with one of RENEW’s program partners and learning more about saving money on heating and cooling bills.

  • Action for a Better Community Energy Conservation Program: 585.442.4160
  • NeighborWorks Community Partners Rochester Home Energy Services: 585.325.4170
  • PathStone Corporation Home Rehabilitation and Energy Services: 585.546.3700, x3025

Fighting Climate Change by Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

Along with commuting and traveling, residential homes are one of the biggest carbon administrators. RENEW—in alignment with New York State and the City of Rochester Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030—is committed to helping our community offset our carbon footprint through energy efficiencies, including the use of clean heating and cooling technologies. Most recently, it supported rehab of Rochester’s first “near net zero” home.

The RENEW Climate Fund is the next step in making progress. McDade welcomes government, municipalities, educational institutions, industries, community organizations, and individuals committed to environmental justice and making greenhouse gas emission reduction a priority to offset their carbon footprints.

“I want people and businesses to start evaluating their individual carbon footprint and what they would need to do to offset it. Instead of donating to organizations outside of our region, reinvest in our community through the RENEW Climate Fund, so we can use those resources to clean the air, help LMI homeowners make their homes more energy efficient, and alleviate poverty.”

McDade emphasized that anything added to the RENEW pot gets donated back to clients. And the more funds RENEW gets, the more people who can be helped. To donate to the RENEW Climate Fund, go to

Improving the Health of All Citizens in Our Community

Looking forward, McDade hopes to extend the RENEW program to rental properties. “Tenants in Monroe County can qualify for up to $600 to pay a utility bill from the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), but that’s just a band-aid,” she said. “It’s definitely not an easy proposition, but if we could also make rental properties energy efficient, healthier, and safer, we’d go a long way to improving the health of all citizens in our community.”