Blocks of row homes with broken windows, chipped paint and an abundance of visible safety hazards. This sight is all too familiar in the Southeast district of Philadelphia. In the working class neighborhood, many of the residents simply cannot maintain the upkeep of their older homes.
In uncertain economical times, maintaining the internal safety and external appeal of their home remains a low priority for some homeowners, even if the damages pose a threat to their safety or their families.
According to Philadelphia’s Home Repair Crisis, a published study done by May 8 Consulting, Inc., a policy analysis firm located in Media, Pa., “More than one out of every eight Philadelphia homeowners– an estimated 43,000 households– cannot afford to make needed repairs to their home.”
These repairs include faulty wiring, roof leakage, seepage in bathrooms and other minor damage that can create major issues if left unaddressed. The study cites these issues as serious social matters claiming. “We are losing houses to abandonment, home owners to shelters, children to foster care and the elderly and disabled to nursing homes.”
As specified by the study, Philadelphia’s home repair dilemma is twice that of other America cities. “Thirty-eight percent of homeowners fall at our below the poverty line, which is twice that rate of Atlanta and Chicago and more than three times the rate of New York or Boston,” the study stated. “Philadelphia family incomes over the past three decades have not kept up with inflation.”
Along with high poverty levels, Philadelphia’s rich historic background, while a notable aspect of the city, proves to be problematic when considering the aged housing infrastructures, which need the most on-going repairs. The most unsettling figure is the majority of Philadelphia homeowners’ repairs cost an average of $5,300. “The cost of not repairing these homes can be more than eight times this amount,” the Philadelphia’s Home Repair Crisis study claimed.
Homeowners in the lower-income neighborhoods, including immigrants and the elderly, cannot afford this amount, even if they know potential risks could occur. However, relief efforts have developed in the Southeast region, where problematic home repairs are excessive.
David Seng, the housing director at United Communities Southeast Philadelphia, directs struggling homeowners to city-implemented programs and funding to help with repairs.
“The programs we work with, which offer housing and community development, are the PhilLoan and PhilLoan Plus. They partner with banks to work with homeowners who have less than perfect credit to get an affordable loan to repair their house with a low interest rate.”
Similarly, Paul Chrystie, the director of communications for the Office of Housing and Community Development, works with five city-supported programs for home restoration. Three of these programs are operated through the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp.: the Adaptive Modifications Program, the Weatherization Assistance Program and the Basic Systems Repair Program. To be eligible for these services, homeowners must complete an application and meet the income qualifications. After qualification, PHDC will send an inspector to outline appropriate repairs for the home and a private building contractor will complete the maintenance.
Another program, the Senior Housing Assistance Repair Program, operated through the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, is income and age restricted and works to maintain smaller repairs for the elderly such as replacing doors and locks, installing electrical switches and rebuilding basement steps.
Lastly, there is the Philadelphia Home Improvement Loan, which provides homeowners with a loan of up to $25,000 at low interest rates such as 3 or 5 percent.
As well as helping the residents repair damages and restore their homes, these programs have an altruistic value, which help the entire community.
“Where people are having difficulty maintaining their homes, it can affect the property values of the homes around it. Providing home repair programs for people who might not otherwise be able to undertake them is a way of stabilizing neighborhoods,” Chrystie explained, “These programs benefit the individual homeowner, the neighborhood in which the homeowner lives and the economy of the city through creating and sustaining jobs.”
For the past three fiscal years alone, the Basic Systems Repairs Program is responsible for repairing over 7,000 homes while creating 3,700 construction jobs. Through these various assistance programs, homeowners can fix problematic issues in their homes while contributing to the growth of the neighborhood.
“I want to convey to the residents if you need help with housing, pleasing contact the local agency in your neighborhood. The social service agencies are free,” Seng explained. However, he warned, “If someone comes to your house claiming they can help you with loan modification and charge you money, stay away. You can contact the Office of Housing and Community Development and they have a list of all the agencies available in your neighborhood.”
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