As we enter fall and the wind chill replaces the heat index, we at Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia focus on creating a city where all Philadelphians live in safe, affordable homes.
This is no small task. Philadelphia’s poverty rate is double Pennsylvania’s and it is the highest among the 10 largest cities in the country. As the city evolves to fit a growing population and the cost of living rises, long-term, low-income homeowners are at risk of health and safety issues that could lead to displacement. Residents are forced to defer the maintenance of critical home repairs affecting the livability of their homes and their own safety, health, and wellness.
That is why six years ago, we connected with local community groups to better serve individuals and families in targeted neighborhoods.
Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia joined the Local Initiatives Support Corporation Philadelphia (LISC Philadelphia) to preserve and stabilize homeowners in the West Philadelphia neighborhood within the Promise Zone. We work with existing homeowners so that they can remain in their homes with critical repairs that will ensure the longevity of the structures and the homeowners’ well-being. The Home Preservation Initiative (HPI) is successful because the foundation of the collaboration was built on the diverse groups already serving the neighborhood, including LISC Philadelphia, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia, People’s Emergency Center, Mount Vernon Manor CDC, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, and Drexel University with support from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
How successful is it? HPI preserved over 700 homes and provided the area’s homeowners with a suite of critical repairs and additional focus on improving the health of the residents.
In recognition of the work we do and success we have accomplished, the State awarded LISC Philadelphia with the PA Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE) in July. The $200,000 grant will provide additional funding to keep HPI running in West Philadelphia for another year, and Habitat and HPI partners can continue to provide critical repair and healthy housing work that will keep people safe in their homes.
These critical home repairs really make a difference and keep people safe in their homes.
Consider the West Philadelphia homeowner in a wheelchair who relied on her grandchildren to maneuver around her 130-year old home. She felt trapped on the first floor with limited accessibility to a bathroom. This woman regained her independence when HPI funding allowed Habitat to reconfigure her floor plan, opened up hallways large enough for her wheelchair, and rebuilt a new bathroom adjacent to her bedroom. She now lives happily in a home modified to accommodate her health and daily needs in addition to regaining her independence and peace of mind.
Similarly, another homeowner feared displacement after a fire destroyed her kitchen. The homeowner was forced to eat convenience store meals or cook on a hot plate or in a microwave for 10 years. She stopped attending her church since she could no longer participate in the bake sales, and her diabetes became an even greater risk without the ability to cook healthy meals. Habitat, through HPI, renovated the kitchen, which allowed her to resume healthy cooking and return to her church community with confidence.
Housing is the cornerstone that provides safety and stability in the lives of individuals, families, blocks and whole neighborhoods. If we care about health, education, crime reduction, economic growth, and the growth of our city as a whole then we need to care about the housing that makes these things possible.
Though we make great strides forward, thousands of Philadelphia homeowners are still at risk. As the city grows with a rising cost of living, so do fears of displacement.
However, with the Housing Preservation Initiative as an effective model, I have hope that, together, we can tackle one of the largest problems our city faces today, and provide more families with homes that are safe, warm, and dry.