Almost half of Pennsylvania voters who are homeowners, including many in Philadelphia, couldn’t afford to pay for critical repairs on their homes if they needed them, according to a poll by Data for Progress of the People’s Action Institute.
The issue of home repairs has received a lot of attention lately since State Sen. Nikil Saval (D-1st) last month led a group of constituents and activists to the steps of the State Capitol in Harrisburg to advocate for the Whole-Home Repairs Act. In addition, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, a non-profit group that repairs homes at no cost to seniors and low-income residents, has brought attention to the issue.
“Right now the reason the home repair bill is important, we have hundreds of thousands of people in Philadelphia and across the state of Pennsylvania who are living in homes that are unsafe because they can’t afford to make critical repairs,” Saval said in an interview with The Tribune.
Last Friday, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia provided eight families with essential repairs on the 3300 block of Kip Street in North Philadelphia, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Builds program, as part of a celebration of National Homeownership Month. About 80 volunteers from Rebuilding Together, Wells Fargo and the community attended the effort, which kicked off a nationwide plan.
The program is designed to provide critical home repairs for seniors, many of whom are on fixed incomes, including new flooring, smoke detectors, grab bars and even planter boxes and painting.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having a safe place to call home. Through our collaboration with Wells Fargo, we are able to provide critical home repairs to those who need it most, advancing Rebuilding Together’s mission to ensure everyone lives in a safe home and community,” said Caroline Blakely, president and CEO of Rebuilding Together.
“Having a quality and affordable place to call home is the foundation for wellness, dignity and economic opportunity,” said Eileen Fitzgerald, head of Housing Affordability Philanthropy at Wells Fargo. “Through Wells Fargo Builds and our longstanding collaboration with Rebuilding Together, we’re helping to restore and renovate distressed properties so people and families can remain safely in their homes.”
According to Data for Progress, 1 in 4 Pennsylvania voters need critical repairs to their homes; almost 1 in 3 state voters say their utility bills are unaffordable; almost half would struggle to pay for a critical repair to their homes; and a bi-partisan majority of Pennsylvanian voters supports the Whole-Homes Repair Act.
“We not only know this from testimony of constituents, people who we have heard from across the state,” Saval said, “but also from polling from Data for Progress.”
In Philadelphia, about 75% of people who applied for loans to repair their homes have been denied by conventional lenders, he said.
“That is a sign of a high need for home repairs. This fuels a cycle of abandonment and replacement, not just in Philadelphia, but across the state,” Saval said. “What we want to do is intervene in that cycle and make it possible for people to stay in their homes by funding critical repairs for homeowners and by making it possible for people to navigate home repair infrastructure.”
According to People’s Action Institute, a Chicago-based non-profit advocacy group for economic justice, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia have some of the oldest housing stock in the U.S. A bipartisan bill, the Whole-Home Repairs Act would create a one-stop shop for home repairs, such as weatherization.
According to Saval, it would help people navigate federal and other government programs that assist in repairing and maintaining homes.
The bill would also provide stipends for pre-apprentice programs so people in Philadelphia and the rest of the state could learn how to do some of the repairs, he said.
“We need a skilled workforce and we are not training enough people to do the work,” Saval said.
“Legislators in the state have a clear mandate from their constituents, both Democrats and Republicans alike: Pass the Whole-Homes Repairs Act to save energy and keep communities housed,” said Anika Dandeker, polling analyst for Data for Progress.
Meanwhile, Rebuilding Together announced $1.3 million in grants from the Wells Fargo Foundation to provide critical home repairs to about 100 homes in 45 neighborhoods throughout the nation. As part of the Wells Fargo Builds program, homeowners in need will be provided with critical home repairs for free. That will allow low- and moderate-income Americans to remain in homes that have been made safer.
Since 2010, Wells Fargo has contributed about $17 million to Rebuilding Together and its affiliate network nationwide to help rebuilding efforts, such as providing critical essential home repairs, revitalizing communities, and helping veterans, older adults, people with disabilities, families with children and victims of disaster to remain in their homes.