LANCASTER, Pa. — Newly proposed legislation is taking aim at blight and hundreds of thousands of homes in desperate need of repair and weatherization.
The Whole-Home Repairs Act would create a program to assess home repair needs and find contractors and community organizations to perform the repairs. Homeowners would be granted up to $50,000 for each unit. Small landlords would be granted a forgivable $50,000 loan per unit.
Eligible homeowners would have a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median income. For landlords to be eligible, they need to rent at an affordable rate and offer to extend the lease for three years at the time of the loan.
Many Pennsylvanians are living in poor conditions. According to the United Health Foundation, 14.5 percent of occupied housing units in Pennsylvania have severe inadequacies, including lack of complete kitchen facilities, lack of plumbing facilities, overcrowding or severely cost-burdened occupants.
The administration of Gov. Tom Wolf estimates that equates to 280,000 occupied units with moderate to severe physical inadequacies.
Problems can include mold, asbestos, blown fuses, leaking pipes, drafty windows, collapsing roofs and nonworking appliances.
“The need is very great for home repairs," said Katie Leaman of Love INC of Lancaster County. "Specifically a lot of our calls are from the elderly population, people who want to age in their homes and don’t have the resources to do the repairs needed in their homes."
Love INC organizes “compassion projects” each year by coordinating volunteers from area churches to perform home repairs. Leaman said the program has a long wait list.
Demand for home repairs also far outpaces demand in larger programs. Pennsylvania alone has a 10,000-person waitlist for the federal Weatherization Assistance Program.
“Without that [assistance], you see individuals then at risk of becoming homeless or essentially having their property condemned,” said Mary Kuna of the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities (CCHRA), which also is overwhelmed with requests for home repairs.
Lawmakers said insufficient housing was a bipartisan issue. As a result, the bill has wide Democratic backing as well as key Republican support in the state Senate.
“We can fight housing scarcity, community displacement, and instability and the deterioration of our homes all at once by passing the Whole Home Repairs Act and filling the gaps in our system to prevent Pennsylvania residents from falling through the cracks,” said State Sen. Nikil Saval, (D-Phila.), primary sponsor of the bill.
The measure has also found support among city organizers and other local officials, such as Lancaster City Council President Ismael Smith-Wade El.
“City investment in home repairs reduces crime, reduces negative public health outcomes. It makes a difference in all of our communities,” Smith-Wade El said at an event Tuesday promoting the bill.
Funding for the bill would be allocated in the 2022-23 state budget, currently being negotiated between the governor and state legislature.
Proponents of the bill proposed paying for it with federal COVID relief dollars, which have contributed to a $6 billion surplus in the budget this year.
Lawmakers hope to have the bill passed and ready for fund allocation and implementation by the time the 2022-23 budget is finalized in late June.