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United Way of Lancaster County


Rally calls for making Whole Home Repairs initiative permanent

State Sen. Nikil Saval speaks about Whole Home Repairs during a rally in Penn Square on Friday, April 21, 2023. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Securing passage of Whole Home Repairs last year was a historic victory, state Sen. Nikil Saval said Friday.

Now, the program, launched with one-time pandemic dollars, needs to be put on a secure and permanent financial footing, he said.

“Whole Home Repairs is working,” the Philadelphia Democrat told his audience Friday at a rally in Penn Square.

Passed as part of the 2022-23 budget, Whole Home Repairs provides funding to help low- and moderate-income homeowners make critical repairs to their houses.

State Sen Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia, at podium, speaks about Whole Home Repairs. Behind him are local supporters of the initiative, including members of progressive advocacy groups CASA, Lancaster Stands Up and Power Interfaith.

Many families struggle to afford major repairs, putting their health and safety at risk and potentially setting them up for condemnation and eviction. Whole Home Repairs can be used to address a wide range of problems: Roof leaks, broken windows, unsafe flooring, corroded plumbing, a failing furnace.

Jose Velez of CASA, at podium, tells his story in Spanish during the rally, with Lourdes Garcia, at his side, providing translation. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Pennsylvania’s housing stock is among the oldest in the country: More than half of rural units and nearly three-quarters of urban ones are more than half a century old.

Initially, Whole Home Repairs is being funded with $125 million from Pennsylvania’s American Rescue Plan Act funds. Each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties is eligible for funding: Lancaster County’s share is about $4 million.

Whole Home Repairs helping people statewide and being lauded as a national model, Saval said. The need for it has proven to be as great as proponents anticipated, he said, and that’s why its vital to secure dedicated recurring funding.

His spokeswoman, Natasha Cahill, said advocates are pushing for $300 million a year, a level that if sustained for five years could enable the repair of more than 50,000 homes statewide.

State Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El

Saval has been barnstorming this week to build support. He was joined in Lancaster by representatives of progressive groups Lancaster Stands Up, Power Interfaith and CASA, and by state Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El, D-Lancaster.

Smith-Wade-El, then the president of City Council, hosted Saval’s Lancaster visit a year ago, when Saval was on a similar tour to push for passage of the legislation.

People deserve places to live that are safe, sound and, yes, beautiful, he said: “Every single Pennsylvanian deserves only the best.”

He and other speakers offered vivid anecdotes of people’s lives set back by unaffordable repairs: A woman forced to sell her house after her mother died, an elderly couple on Social Security who can’t afford the second mortgage they took out to finance roof repairs; a single mother evicted when her landlord decided to remodel and raise the rent 40%.

The Revs. David Bushnell, left, and Matthew Lenahan of Power Interfaith speak about housing struggles in Lancaster County.

City resident Jose Velez said he, his wife and their seven children moved from a cramped apartment into a starter home six months ago but have been swamped with major repairs that they can’t afford. His son now has elevated blood lead levels.

Speaking in Spanish, Velez said, “It would be a great hope for us to have more money for the Whole-Home Repairs Program, so that we can make changes to our homes and give our children and families a better quality of life.”

Whole Home Repairs has immense potential, Saval said: It lets communities fight blight, which can help reduce crime. It supports skilled jobs and economic development. It lets disabled people make the modifications they need to stay in their homes.

“Imagine what our commonwealth would look like if we were to fund this program to meet the immensity of the need,” he said.

State Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade El, in black and red, and state Sen. Nikil Saval, in tan, join rally participants for a photo op. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

(Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article said landlords were eligible for Whole Home Repairs. Lancaster County has opted out of that portion of the program.)