Of the many thousands of homes in Philadelphia that are in need of some health-related repairs, nearly 70 percent are rowhouses. In fact, homeowners are more likely to need repairs than renters, and low- and moderate-income households are nearly as likely to need home repairs as the city’s poorest residents.
Nearly half of the homes in Philadelphia with health-related repair needs have children or seniors living in them. Research shows that more than a quarter of Philadelphia seniors live in a home with damage to the roof, the plumbing system, or the heating system. Seniors in homes with health-related repair needs are far more likely than others to have chronic conditions, visit the emergency room, or experience falls. Moreover, some 39 percent of asthma diagnoses in children can be attributed to risk factors in the home.
According to the American Housing Survey, more than 235,000 homes in Philadelphia have leaks, with the most common leaks coming from the roof. Meanwhile, 90,000 homes have cracks in the floors or walls, 77,000 have inadequate heating, and 45,000 have broken windows. Among the homes with repair needs, more than half are minor, able to be resolved for around $10,000 or less.
Philadelphia homeowners want to make these repairs but need access to home improvement loans to do so. In fact, 24,000 households in the city applied for home-repair loans between 2012 and 2014, with nearly half of those requesting less than $10,000. But 62 percent of those applications were denied—a denial rate that far exceeded the national rate of 37 percent.
Credit scores are partially to blame. About half of Philadelphians have credit scores below 660, which can prevent them from being able to obtain a private loan. Healthy Rowhouse is advocating for the creation of a city-backed loan program to address the gap. The loan program will encourage private lenders to provide home improvement loans to households with incomes or credit scores too low to be eligible for conventional loans.
City Council President Darrell Clarke has led the charge to preserve existing affordable housing and keep people in their homes, convening three committees to advise the city on effective grant and loan programs. As a result of this work, City Council and the Mayor Kenney have committed to an increase in funding for the city’s Basic Systems Repair Program, which provides grants for home repairs in households earning up to 150 percent of the poverty line, or $36,450 for a family of four. There are currently 8,000 households on the BSRP waitlist to receive free repairs, with a wait of up to four years.
Of the 109,000 homes in the city with minor and moderate repair needs, 45,000 are eligible for Basic Systems Repair grants, and 34,000 have incomes that exceed the grant maximum but may need help obtaining a loan. Last May, Philadelphia City Council approved a 0.1-percent increase in the real estate transfer tax that will pay for the $60 million in funding to expand home repair grants and $40 million to create a new loan program for homeowners who are being routinely turned down from private lenders. The loan program will leverage millions of dollars in private capital that will fund loans for Philadelphia homeowners who are currently considered “unlendable.”
The need is clear. Healthy Rowhouse is working with the city and its nonprofit partners to create efficient, cost-effective loan and grant programs to ensure that every Philadelphian can live in healthy housing.