The 2022-2023 state budget just signed by Gov. Tom Wolf includes $125 million to fund a new program to pay for home repairs and other improvements for those with limited incomes.
Pennsylvania legislators and housing advocates praised the Whole-Home Repairs Program – believed to be the first of its kind in the country – as a step toward addressing the commonwealth’s housing affordability crisis.
The legislation to establish the initiative was proposed by Democratic Sen. Nikil Saval from Philadelphia but earned bipartisan support.
Saval, the Democratic chair of the Senate’s Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, introduced the legislation in the Senate with the full Democratic Caucus and five Republican senators as co-sponsors.
Homeowners with household incomes not exceeding 80% of area median income are eligible for grants up to $50,000 in the program. Forgivable loans for landlords who meet certain requirements are available as well.
The money can be used for habitability concerns, energy or water efficiency improvements, or accessibility for people with disabilities.
In addition, the $125 million covers staff to assist people in cutting through red tape, and pays for training to expand the skilled local workforce needed to make the improvements, through pre-apprenticeship and other programs.
The commonwealth has some of the oldest housing stock in the country.
“One out of every four Pennsylvania voters lives in a home that needs a critical repair, while one out of every three describes their utility bills as ‘unaffordable,’ ” a release from Saval’s office noted. “And if confronted with the need to make a critical repair to their home, nearly half of Pennsylvanians say they would struggle to afford it.”
With the Whole-Home Repairs Program the first of its kind in the nation, Saval hopes it becomes a model for other states in how to preserve aging housing stock while adding jobs.
“Every person has a right to a home that is safe – a home that is healthy,” he said in the release. “But right now, across our commonwealth, hundreds of thousands of households are denied this right simply because they don’t have access to the resources they need to repair their homes.”
Saval said the program starts to reverse the disinvestment urban, suburban and rural communities have experienced for decades at the hands of government.
“At this time of protracted hardship … we have a program to preserve housing across the commonwealth, to stabilize our communities, to prevent blight and abandonment and displacement, to build a skilled workforce to keep our state at the forefront of the industries of the future, and to protect the place that is most dear to all of us: home.”
Paula Wolf is a freelance writer