On May 24, LAMPa joined advocates and legislators gathered on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol to rally in support of the bipartisan Whole-Home Repairs Bill.

Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill) spoke of his support for the bill saying that Pennsylvania must “Fix the homes before we have to tear them down”.  “When there’s blight in a neighborhood,” Argall said, “it doesn’t care if a community votes Republican or Democrat… We need to prevent the blight before it starts to take place.” 

Known as the Whole Home Repairs Act, the legislation, if passed, will aid homeowners across the commonwealth in making necessary repairs that they cannot afford, both to houses they live in, and to ones they rent out to tenants.  These repairs could range from relatively minor fixes such as weatherproofing to major renovations that could keep older homes inhabitable.  This has the added benefit of saving historic properties from demolition.

The bill would help owners achieve these aims by utilizing surplus money left to the state from federal aid during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sen. Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia), who is leading the initiative, envisions a system that brings together already existing programs that help homeowners pay for certain repairs and improvements, but not necessarily going far enough in covering the bulk of expenses.

The Whole-Home Repairs Act works by creating a fund to fill the three main gaps: (1) funding for home repairs, (2) coordination and technical assistance, and (3) workforce development.

  • Repairs: The Whole-Home Repairs Fund provides $50,000 grants for homeowners and loans to small landlords with affordability restrictions so that they can make habitability repairs and upgrades for energy efficiency.
  • Coordination and technical assistance: The Whole-Home Repairs Fund allocates resources for support staff to help people access the right programs in the right order to meet their needs and maximize their access to holistic repairs.
  • Workforce development: The Whole-Home Repairs Fund provides resources to increase retention in home repair and weatherization training programs and pre-apprenticeship programs, including cash stipends to trainees, so that our state can build up the workforce needed to meet the demand.

The legislation enjoys the support of 3/4 of Pennsylvanians, according to a recent study.  This is owed, in part, to not only the bipartisan support of the bill, but also the way in which housing issues do not discriminate in who they impact.  “It is not a partisan issue, … it is not a rural issue or an urban issue, every person has a right to a home that is safe, a home that is healthy…” Saval said.

“Pennsylvania, like the rest of the nation, is experiencing a housing crisis, and it’s being felt in every corner of the Commonwealth.” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale.

“Some of our ministries are doing heroic work to help people find safe shelter, food and a community of support,” DePasquale said. “From people young and old seeking the safety of a portico to sleep on, to parents of small children asking pastors to let them in their cars overnight in the church parking lot, our congregations are witnessing increasing numbers of people faced with heartbreaking choices just to be able to afford food and medicine or to keep their families together.

Lutheran Disaster Response is working with families displaced by storms in Pennsylvania that did not meet the threshold for federal disaster relief.   Those families would be able to make repairs under this legislation. “The weatherization supported by this bill would have the benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as reducing energy costs for homeowners and renters,” DePasquale said. “We can care for our neighbors around the globe while caring for our neighbors next door.”

The legislation would go beyond responding to crisis to helping preserve community.

“Our senior citizens deserve to age in their own homes if they desire, and our communities benefit from the presence of their elders,” DePasquale said.

Cynthia Daley, Director of Community Development Initiatives at Regional Housing Legal Services, spoke at the May 24th rally.  Daley, who’s organization works to create housing and economic opportunity in underserved communities in Pennsylvania and to effect systematic change for the benefit of lower-income households, spoke of how such legislation is not only in the interest of homeowners, but in the interest of the state and its economic outlook.

All too familiar with arguments against large government spending projects, Daley responded by acknowledging the unique opportunity that the current budget surplus affords.  She said “I was told [in the past] ‘Yes, but we can’t take money away from Medical Assistance, Education, or Corrections to invest in housing.’  This year we don’t have to.  Pennsylvania still has billions of dollars from the Fiscal Recovery Fund. Our tax receipts are
higher than anticipated. So now is the time to make this investment.”

LAMPa supports this legislation, keeping in mind the ELCA’s teaching on homelessness and the role of the Church in building a society where all are cared for.  The ELCA’s social message Homelessness: A Renewal of Commitment, reminds us that

Christians walk with the homeless when they join with others to voice deep concern about homelessness, ask hard questions, and advocate policies that seek to provide job training, employment opportunities, housing, education, health care, and support for the homeless. While as Christians we may differ in our views on what policies will be most effective, we ought not overlook the need for new and sustained initiatives by government, businesses, and non-profit organizations, including church groups. Church leaders are challenged to help create the public will to eliminate homelessness.

The threat of homelessness begins long before people are forced onto the streets.  By passing the Whole Home Repairs Act, Pennsylvania will be helping to make homes safe, households resourced, and workers trained to care for the most vulnerable.

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