Got a busted hot water heater? Philly homeowners can get help from a new fund

Residential gas water heater

(oasisamuel/Bigstock)

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A few dozen Philadelphia homeowners struggling to replace broken hot water heaters will soon get relief from a new emergency fund.

The fund, launched by the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA), will pay to replace hot water heaters for about 65 low-income families — a need staff say they hadn’t been able to meet before.

“What initially brought our attention to it, was the number of calls we got from, ‘Mrs. Smith’ [for example], whose heater was working fine, but she doesn’t have hot water in her house, and it’s too costly for her to just go out and have a new tank put in,” said Steve Luxton, CEO of the Energy Coordinating Agency.

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The ECA runs a heater hotline through which it repairs or replaces about 5,000 heaters per year. But funding for that program cannot be used for hot water heaters, Lutxon said. His organization has historically referred people to the city’s Basic Systems Repair Program, which can replace water heaters when addressing other household emergency repairs.

But people without working hot water heaters frequently call the ECA, saying they’re forced to heat water on their stove for washing dishes and bathing.

“This program will increase the safety and affordability of the homes of low-income families and help preserve the transfer of generational wealth as gentrification continues to change the landscape and diversity of Philadelphia,” State Sen. Sharif Street said in a statement.

ECA’s new fund is starting off with $150,000 from a Pennsylvania Department of Human Services grant, which Street said he advocated for. The ECA also received money from the W. W. Smith Charitable Trust and the Green Family Foundation.

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To qualify for hot water heater help from the new fund, you must:

  • Be a homeowner
  • Earn no more than 300% the federal poverty level
  • Preference will be given to seniors and other vulnerable adults

To apply, call the ECA’s heater hotline, at 215-568-7190.

The income eligibility limit on the new fund is designed to capture homeowners who don’t qualify for other utility or home repair assistance programs with lower caps.

“I raised that threshold to 300% to get what we call the ‘rock and a hard place’ folks, that supposedly make too much money,” Luxton said. “But the reality is, they don’t make too much money. Give me a break.”

The ECA will start by installing new gas-powered hot water heaters, but Luxton hopes to secure additional funding to install electric ones — to help the city meet its climate goals. Luxton said he’s looking for funding from foundations, companies, and government grants.

Replacing hot water heaters is an undermet need in the city, said Philadelphia Energy Authority President and CEO Emily Schapira.

“We’re very excited” about ECA’s new fund, she said.

Schapira’s organization, which is piloting a program to coordinate home repair, energy efficiency, and clean energy services for low-income homeowners, frequently encounters households without hot water. She said Philadelphia Energy Authority may be able to support the ECA’s new hot water heater fund with “last resort” money for people who don’t qualify.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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