This bipartisan home improvement bill, the Whole House Repairs Act, is not just for show.
Legislation backed by progressive lawmakers and organizations in Philadelphia has already received support from three Republican senators: Dan Laughlin of Erie County, Dave Argall of Berks County and Pat Browne of Lehigh County.
State Senator Nikil Saval kicked off the week-long start of the Home Repairs Act campaign Monday morning at Philadelphia’s Hawthorne Park. Joined by U.S. Representative Dwight Evans, City Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson, several state legislators and community activists, Saval stressed the importance of funding home repairs and weatherization in urban and rural areas.
“We are here today because hundreds of thousands of people across our Commonwealth – our constituents, our neighbours, our loved ones – live in homes that are unsafe because they cannot afford to reparations, and that is unacceptable,” said Saval. “The Whole Home Repairs Act is a bipartisan bill that creates a one-stop shop for home repairs and weatherization while strengthening our workforce and adding new jobs to support family in a growing field.”
The “one-stop shop” includes three main initiatives:
- Funding energy-efficient repairs and retrofits to Pennsylvania homes;
- Support staff to help people access home repair assistance; and
- Financial support to promote retention in training and pre-apprenticeship programs.
The legislation would allow homeowners or landlords to apply for up to $50,000 to repair their home through the Department of Community and Economic Development. Individual landlords can apply for grants up to this amount and landlords can apply for repayable loans, which come with restrictions on how much they can charge for rent. Although there is no set amount for the bill yet, Saval said he hopes the legislation will spark serious discussions during upcoming budget negotiations.
“Right now, our state government decides the annual budget. There are billions of dollars in US bailout funding from the federal government and a projected surplus of more than $6 billion in state revenues. This is a unique opportunity to make a historic investment in our communities,” he said.
Laughlin, one of three Republican cosponsors, said he likes the bill’s comprehensive approach to the issue, but the GOP is still wary of where the funding is coming from.
“It makes a lot of sense from the perspective of these urban areas. The scourge only eats away at our cities. This drives down the value of everyone’s properties. Laughlin told City & State. “I like the concept (of the bill), but how do you fund this without hurting another area of the budget? I think if we understand that, we can start rolling it out.
At Monday’s press conference, advocates from organizations including Philly Thrive, the Energy Coordinating Agency, POWER Interfaith, Make the Road Pennsylvania, Disabled in Action and the Sunrise Movement all explained how the legislation would help their members to stay at home.
Shawmar Pitts, a member of the environmental justice group Philly Thrive, said the Whole-Home Repairs Act can not only help those who cannot afford basic repairs, but also those who are targeted by offers from real estate agents.
“(The developers) will make an offer, but it will be a cash lump sum. ‘We’ll give you $60,000 or $70,000 for your house,’ he said. ‘If you’re a senior or a low-income person, $70,000 sounds like a million dollars to you…it sounds enticing to take that $70,000, but it’s a false hope.”
Rather than selling your crumbling home for an amount that won’t allow you to pay another mortgage, Pitts said, this bill can help low-income families invest in their homes to ensure they can stay there and even pass the property to the owner. The next generation.
Based on an existing program in Philadelphia known as Built to Last, the Whole-Home Repairs Act can fill the gaps where other housing assistance programs have failed.
“It builds on existing programs to fill the gaps in some of our most vulnerable communities, especially those facing housing challenges,” Gilmore-Richardson told City & State. “This Whole-Home Act model builds on this adaptive modification program so that we are ensuring that people living in homes with disabilities can receive repairs for things like ramps, stair lifts, modifications kitchen and bathroom facilities, and all of this is not readily available with our older housing stock in town.
The problems of scourge and inadequate housing increase the problems in Commonwealth counties, which is why this legislation seems to have caught the attention of Republicans in Harrisburg.
“One of my main priorities is to fight the scourge. While destroyed and decaying buildings can be contagious in a neighborhood, fixing them can also create a ripple effect,” Argall said in a statement. “In big cities like Philadelphia or small rural towns like Mahanoy City, this new funding would help breathe new life into our ancient communities.”
Despite the history of partisan gridlock in the General Assembly, lawmakers are optimistic that the initial bipartisan support, coupled with Saval’s campaign to introduce the bill in the state this week, can help make pass that through the legislature and up to the governor’s office.
“We recognize that it has to be done block by block and house by house,” Evans said. “When the senator talks about going around the state, that means every county and every township. We have to build it from the bottom up, and that only happens when we work together.