“I am a builder”
Eddie “Ice Cream” Jones doesn’t just build energy independent homes, he builds community. Eddie is one of a growing contingent of green builders who is putting his calloused thumb on the scale so the marginalized people can empower themselves with knowledge. He rehabs homes so they are as close to totally off the power grid as possible. “I believe people shouldn’t be faced with choice between buying food and paying your electric and gas bills,” says Eddie. “We retrofit old houses with green and recyclable systems like radial heating, aluminum roofs, solar panels and geo-thermal heating systems.” When the systems are combined with efficient weatherization of houses, it’s possible for a house to generate 15,000 megawatts of energy.
Eddie is a bricklayer by trade and could easily find a union job earning big bucks, instead he chooses to be what he calls, “Community Contractor.” “I love my job too much to retire.” His heart is with the poor and the shrinking middle class, helping them bring the cost of living down through the knowledge he shares. “A big contractor comes out from the suburbs and charges $40-80 an hour to do a 2-hour job that he takes half the day to do.” “I’ll come over and do an estimate for a guy down the block, I don’t charge him the $75 just to come over and look. It’s materials, a couple hundred dollars and dinner.” But along with that will comes a lesson, so the homeowner or renter can do the repair themselves next time.
“If we don’t share the wealth we’re going to split folks. Then you’re going to have people fighting with their own community for crumbs.” Eddie envisions a community where 85% of the work that happens in the community is done residents. “So, if someone in the neighborhood has a plumbing problem, I go over and help, when I’m over there, I find out he fixes cars, hey can you work on my car?” Eddie believes in a crowd-sourcing concept where skills and knowledge in a community are diverse and should be shared. “I love working with different folks, immigrants know different things about hand tools, or teaching a young kid how to build a chimney so he can brag to his friends about it later.” Eddie smiles a beatific smile, “That is the best high.”
“You have to have a sense of feel to get right, or else it isn’t right and all these other things will go wrong.” The conversation was mixing concrete, but it sounds like a formula for building community too. It’s a feel, but more importantly it’s a dedication to doing it right. To keep trying, until it’s right.
His vision of a perfect world, has skills centers in every quadrant of the city; north, east, west and south. A concentrated effort is made to train people for green jobs with manifold benefits. “People in power are screaming about fossil fuels,” specifically pushing fossil fuel products and industries. “But behind closed doors they’re getting patents and authorizations so they can put a lock on the market for renewable technologies.” The fraud is in creating a dependence on fossil fuels where better alternatives exist.
Eddie works with the EPA and does state-wide speaking engagements to underline the importance of Climate Justice. He insists that Governor Cuomo should make good on his promise to encourage bottom-up economic development. He takes the EPA to task for making it very difficult for people to reduce their carbon footprint if it means crippling fees and mountains of paperwork.
“There needs to be feedback from the community so you’re not doing wrong things.” Eddie said in regards to his localized vision. The same could be said that struggling communities need to give feedback to the Mayor, the Governor and all their elected officials about making going green more cost effective.
“People overlook the accountability factor,” Eddy shrugged his shoulders, “If the guy screws up, you’re not playing phone tag, you know where he live at, best believe you going to do the best job you can to make sure, because you don’t want nobody knocking at your door, the community screw-facing you. That’s how you build a strong community.”
Given the West Side’s amazing turn-around in the past ten years, I’d say Eddie Ice Cream Jones knows exactly what he’s talking about.