Pennsylvania Legislature Approves New Home Repair Assistance Program
Steve Luxton runs the nonprofit Energy Coordinating Agency, which helps people pay for weatherization that can lower their utility bills, and said the group has found that up to half of Philadelphia households requesting weatherization are not eligible due to a leaky roof or other issue. .
“There are literally hundreds of homes that will be eligible for the Whole Home Repair program that can be weatherized,” Luxton said. “It really has a domino effect.”
The other existential problem that this proposal is intended to address is gentrification.
One of the drivers of gentrification is that landlords in rapidly developing neighborhoods are often beset by developers eager to buy their land. Groups supporting the Whole Home Repair program say that if a homeowner falls behind on expensive repairs, they may feel pressure to sell the home for a fraction of its true value, losing potential generational wealth in the process.
The program will be managed by the state Department of Community and Economic Development. County agencies – or groups that do housing assistance work in counties – will be able to apply for certain amounts of money and then help landlords apply for a share of the funding.
Individual homeowners will be eligible for a grant of up to $50,000, and homeowners can get a repayable loan up to that same amount. Homeowners are eligible if they earn up to 80% of their region’s median income. The loans are only available to small landlords and they come with additional restrictions on how much that landlord can charge in rent.
Some of the money from the fund will also be used to add staff at the state and county level to help people through the grant or loan process, and to provide workforce training. so that more people can be certified to withstand the weather and retrofit aging homes.
“We will have to fight for that”
The entire budget still needs a signature from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has indicated he broadly supports it. There is not yet a precise timetable for the entry into force of the program. Once the budget is enacted, the DCED will need to establish guidelines for the program, and then counties and other groups can begin applying for funding and allocating it to owners.
Argall noted that just because a program is created does not mean it will receive funding every year. In times of recession or low incomes, Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled legislature has often sought to cut public programs to balance the books, rather than raise taxes.
The whole-house repair program, Argall acknowledged, would be an easy candidate for the chopping block. He is already thinking about the next budget.
“We’re going to have to fight for it every year,” he said – adding that he’s ready to use as much of his influence as possible to keep it on the books. “This problem is not going away.”