Philly home repair program seen as climate resilience tool gets its first city funding

Built to Last, which staff say helps “future-proof” Philly homes, got $5 million in the budget City Council passed Thursday.

home repairs happening

Pa.’s Whole-Home Repairs program has been lauded as a way to lower energy use and help keep low- and moderate-income families in their homes. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The new budget Philly’s City Council finalized Thursday includes a last-minute allocation for a program that fixes leaky roofs and broken plumbing — and also “future-proofs” homes with electric heat pump HVAC systems and rooftop solar.

The program, Built to Last, got $5 million in the budget for next fiscal year that City Council and Mayor Cherelle Parker agreed to last week. That’s more than the program’s entire budget this fiscal year.

“They make homes more energy-efficient,” said at-large City Councilmember Nicolas O’Rourke. “They reduce the emissions as well as housing costs — which is a win-win for me.”

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Built to Last, run by the quasi-governmental Philadelphia Energy Authority, began as a pilot in 2021. Since then, the program has repaired over 100 homes and has around 200 more in process.

It’s designed to be a “one-stop shop” that brings together existing programs for low-income homeowners and fills in the gaps. It offers basic home repairs, weatherization, installation of efficient, electric appliances and renewable energy.

“We’re opening up the ability for folks to get that whole-home treatment, but we’re also giving them the opportunity to kind of future-proof, to adapt to the climate needs of the future — [for example], to add air conditioning to their home through a heat pump,” said Alon Abramson, director of residential programs at the Philadelphia Energy Authority.

But the program has not been able to keep up with demand. Its current waitlist stands at around 1,600 families, said Emily Schapira, president and CEO of Philadelphia Energy Authority. Staff hope to serve 400 more homes next fiscal year, she said.

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The program has received federal and state funding, including from Pennsylvania’s Whole-Home Repairs program, but never funding from the city. The Philadelphia Energy Authority did receive around $2 million in the city budget this fiscal year, but the money did not go to the Built to Last program, officials said.

Environmental justice advocates pushed for city funding for the program, which they see as helping people stay in their homes as neighborhoods gentrify while keeping utility bills down and reducing planet-warming emissions. Activists with the Grays Ferry–based group Philly Thrive rallied in support of the budget line item this spring while announcing their own home repairs program.

“Long-term residents who are unable to afford repairs have been forced out of the neighborhood,” Philly Thrive’s co-director and policy coordinator, Shawmar Pitts, told WHYY News in March. “It’s clear. We need home repairs and low-income housing for our residents.”

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