PSR PA Supports Statewide Home Repairs and Weatherization Program
On July 8, 2022, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed the 2022–2023 state budget, including a $125-million appropriation to create the first-of-its-kind Whole-Home Repairs Program, seeded with federal funding from the American Rescue Plan. The creation of this program represents a major win for Pennsylvanians, thanks to the leadership of Senator Saval, who authored the program, and a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals across the state. PSR PA proudly lent its voice in advocacy for the program’s objectives, underscoring the health challenges that the program aims to address including home-related asthma triggers, safety issues related to improper heating, and mold due to water damage.
Put forward initially as the Whole-Home Repairs Act, this program provides “a one-stop shop for home repairs and weatherization while building out our workforce and creating new family-sustaining jobs in a growing field,” according to Senator Saval, who represents Philadelphia’s District 1.
Created through conversations with communities highly impacted by the challenges of aging housing and advocates that support them, the program enables homeowners to address damage, essential updates, and weatherization all at once. This solution circumvents problems many Pennsylvanians experience accessing programs like the federally funded Weatherization Assistance Program, where homeowners do not qualify because their homes need repairs before weatherization can begin. Where families cannot access repairs and are forced to live in or abandon homes that have become unsafe, this program will be a lifeline.
Pennsylvania’s housing stock is some of the oldest in the country, with the majority of homes built before 1970. Older homes are not only more likely to need repairs, they are also more likely to have a leaky building envelope, failing HVAC systems, and dangerously below-code electrical wiring. While a recent study shows that one in four Pennsylvanians say their house needs critical repairs and one in three say their energy bills are unaffordable, almost half of homeowners surveyed said they would struggle to pay for a home repair. Furthermore, Pennsylvania’s elderly and disabled population is growing, requiring more accessibility upgrades and creating layered challenges to what might otherwise be minor issues.
The program also lays the groundwork for essential climate-related sustainability upgrades. With a time-sensitive need to move away from fossil fuels, families must ensure their homes are able to support a fully electric system, requiring a much higher energy capacity than older homes were built with. More immediately, this program will help families make their homes more energy efficient, sealing leaky roofs and windows and replacing broken and inefficient heating and cooling systems. Average energy spending in Pennsylvania is one of the highest in the country and hits low income customers the hardest: in a 2019 study the Pennsylvania Utility Commission found that state residents with incomes at or below 50% of the FPIG had energy burden levels at 30% or higher for four of the five years of the study. Making homes more energy efficient not only saves these families essential funds, but requires less power (which is currently largely fossil fuels) to heat, cool, and cook.
Though signing the Whole-Home Repairs Program into state law represents a significant step in aiding many struggling Pennsylvania families, a lot of work needs to be done to ensure all families statewide have access to safe, healthy housing. Ongoing research from the Philadelphia LMI home upgrade pilot Built to Last and the Whole-Home Repairs Program’s first year will provide information on the success of these programs and what additional funding is needed to achieve full access.
Additionally, we must continue to prepare our homes and energy systems for a hotter and wetter future, even as we transition entirely off of the fossil fuels that are causing global warming. Pennsylvania must stop building fossil fuel infrastructure and prepare for an all-electric future immediately on a state and city level, in the private sector, and in peoples’ homes. There is a lot of work to be done, but funding the Whole-Home Repairs Program was a bipartisan achievement that gives hope to many Pennsylvanians and reminds us that the healthy safe equitable future we hope for is within reach.