It’s been more than two and a half years since Tropical Storm Isaias inundated Lemuel Bannister’s home, knocking out his heater, ruining his kitchen appliances, and damaging his electrical wiring, walls, and doors.
The Eastwick resident replaced his hot water heater, paid thousands of dollars to a contractor, and received help from a coalition of neighborhood groups, disaster relief organizations, and the city. Still, repairs are not done.
But a new grant program launched last month by Eastwick United CDC may help Bannister cross the last big repair off his list: a permanent cover for the hole in his asbestos siding that’s been patched with temporary insulation for over a year.
“Just to put the whole thing behind me — that’s really what I’m trying to get to,” Bannister said.
The new grant program is funded by the city of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability and administered by Eastwick United, a community development organization that has been active organizing flood recovery efforts and long term solutions to flooding in the neighborhood. Qualifying residents will receive up to $7,500 to repair damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in August, 2020.
“We want to help as many people to recover as possible,” said Carolyn Moseley, consulting executive director of Eastwick United.
The neighborhood is considered an environmental justice community, with homes built in a floodplain and atop sinking soil during a botched urban renewal project. Eastwick, a majority Black, working- to middle-class neighborhood, has faced repeated flooding along with a number of other environmental hazards.
Eastwick residents were forced to recover from Isaias without federal assistance.
Despite the state documenting roughly four times more residential buildings in Philadelphia damaged by Isaias than by the remnants of Hurricane Ida the following year, FEMA failed to declare a federal disaster in Pennsylvania. The agency did declare a disaster after Ida in 2021, which caused more damage statewide, unlocking roughly $88 million in assistance to Philly households.
Since then, a coalition of neighborhood organizations, disaster relief groups, and local government agencies launched an effort called the Eastwick Unmet Needs Roundtable to provide HVAC systems, organize volunteer labor to replace moldy drywall and make other repairs, and pay licensed contractors to repair plumbing or perform other specialized work in homes damaged by Isaias.
The Unmet Needs Roundtable initially reached out to around 250 families identified as impacted by Isaias. The group provided case management services to around 60, and of those, will likely end up giving direct assistance in the form of repairs or new appliances to roughly 40, said Julia Menzo, director of community outreach for Liberty Lutheran, a member of the Unmet Needs Roundtable. The group is looking for volunteers to help finish jobs such as installing drywall and painting in homes this spring, but does not plan to take on any new cases.
Applications submitted so far for the Eastwick United grant are revealing additional households who did not connect with the Unmet Needs Roundtable, Moseley said.
“This is just a whole new list, if you will, of individuals that were totally unidentified, that we didn’t know about,” she said.
People with unfinished repairs more than two years after the flood may have inadequate flood insurance, Moseley said, or their income may fall just above the eligibility limits of city assistance programs for repairs. The volunteer-reliant model of the Unmet Needs Roundtable also proved challenging amid a pandemic, Moseley said.
“You had a lot of people who could slip through the cracks,” she said.
Eastwick United’s grant program is open to any Eastwick resident with unfinished repairs from Isaias damage, regardless of income. Applicants must be current on their mortgage payments and at least have an agreement in place to pay any outstanding city taxes, Moseley said. Eastwick United plans to distribute an initial roughly two dozen grants, but will try to acquire more funding if needed.
Bannister hopes his neighbors — especially those who are elderly or living on fixed incomes — will take advantage of the grant program. He sees Eastwick’s recovery work as a potential model for other communities hit by disasters.
“Get what you need to get your homes back in order,” he said. “Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. … Let’s shine, take this moment and really show them how it can be done.”