Philly refreshes home repair program with hopes of preserving more properties

A closeup of detailing on Philly row houses

Shown are rowhouses in Philadelphia, Friday, April 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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In response to feedback from residents and contractors, Philadelphia has revamped a citywide program that provides affordable loans for major home repairs.

“We felt we needed to make it a little bit less challenging for folks,” said David Thomas, president of the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation.

The Restore Repair Renew initiative is now offering direct low-interest loans up to $50,000 — double the previous limit.

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Income-eligible homeowners will also have a lot more time to get the repair work completed. The construction period was extended from three months to 12 months.

To help attract more contractors, homeowners must now put down 50% of a project’s estimated cost up front. The previous requirement was 30%.

The goal of the program, launched in March 2019, remains the same: To preserve affordable homes and neighborhoods.

The 10-year loans offered through the program can be used to fix roofs and sidewalks, as well as replace water lines and windows. Mold mitigation, plumbing, and electrical work are covered too.

“We live in rowhomes. So, if one house comes down, three houses are affected,” Thomas said. “The impact of that is that it has a negative impact on the value of the neighborhood. The block itself becomes devalued to some degree because of this instability.”

Changes to the three-year-old program come as a pair of new housing initiatives take shape at the state level, including the Whole Home Repair Program, which is designed to help lower- to middle-income residents pay for repairs needed to keep their properties safe and inhabitable.

Under the program, passed by lawmakers as part of the state budget, eligible homeowners can apply for grants of up to $50,000. Small landlords can apply for the same amount in the form of a forgivable loan.

The initiative will have a $125 million budget in its first year. In March, state Sen. Nikil Saval, who introduced the legislation behind the program, said it could take up to $1 billion to fully fund the initiative, which also calls for workforce training and additional support staff who can help participants coordinate their repairs.

A provision of a separate program, signed into law this week, allows municipalities to offer property tax abatements for home improvements — if 30% of the housing on site meets the initiative’s affordability requirements.

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In September, Philadelphia is expected to mail out new property assessments to homeowners — the first in three years due to the pandemic-related issues.

Those values, which increased by an average of 31% for residential properties, mean many residents will be paying more in property taxes, potentially making necessary home repairs more difficult to finance.

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