North 27th Street

A row of houses on 27th Street in North Philadelphia. — Jonathan Wilson for WHYY

A new low-interest loan program aimed at helping Philadelphia homeowners fix aging or damaged homes will provide $40 million in repairs for qualified applicants, city officials said Wednesday.

The Restore, Repair, Renew program signals the city’s renewed focus on stabilizing and fixing the tens of thousands of Philadelphia homes threatened by aging bones and disrepair.

These older homes hold the key to keeping Philadelphia affordable for families who can’t pay for new construction, advocates argue. But without access to credit for repairs, people can’t keep them livable.

“For too long, government has overlooked the ‘middle’ — homeowners in working-class neighborhoods who are not poor enough for grant programs, but who are also denied loans by big banks,” said City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker. “In order to stabilize neighborhoods, we need to invest in them now. As we know, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.”

Parker and City Council President Darrell Clarke spearheaded the creation of the program, which will be managed by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. The $40 million came from a 2016 proposal to issue a $100 million bond that the Council members said would be paid back through an increase in the city’s realty transfer tax.

Restore, Repair, Renew will be available to homeowners with credit scores of at least 580 and income of up to about $105,000 for a family of four. The program will allow loans between $2,500 and $25,000 over 10 years, with interest rates fixed at 3 percent. Univest Bank and Trust Company and Finanta, a nonprofit lender, will provide the loans.

The Redevelopment Authority also plans to roll out a separate home repair-oriented loan program later this year to help landlords who own four or fewer units make fixes.

Parker pursued the city-backed loan program for homeowners as part of her effort to shore up “middle neighborhoods,” the working- to lower middle-class areas of the city that she feels are often ignored. It finds precedent in a similar Baltimore effort called the Healthy Neighborhoods initiative.

Both Baltimore and Philadelphia find themselves facing affordable housing shortages even as they struggle to maintain extensive supplies of aging row homes. More than 80 percent of Philadelphia housing stock was built before 1970, according to Census data. It can cost between $300,000 and $450,000 to build a new subsidized housing unit in Philadelphia, meaning this $40 million would cover construction of fewer than 200 new units. That same amount of money will maintain thousands of more homes.

“This is a great, great idea,” said Jeff Hornstein, head of the Crosstown Coalition, an umbrella group of community groups across the city. “This is the most cost-effective strategy for preserving affordable housing stock in the city. We have plenty of affordable housing in the city; a lot of it is just in really bad shape. This is exactly what we need to be doing.”

The other $60 million that went to the city through the 2016 bond issue went to support another program for low-income homeowners called the Basic Systems Repair Program. — (WHYY)

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