City program for home repair helps NW residents

by Pryce Jamison
Posted 2/15/24

Out of the 2,362 residents who received home repairs from the city's Basic Systems Repair Program in fiscal 2022-23, Germantown had 100 recipients and Mt. Airy had 26.

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City program for home repair helps NW residents


Out of the 2,362 residents who received home repairs from the city's Basic Systems Repair Program in the fiscal year 2022-23, Germantown had 100 recipients and Mt. Airy had 26, according to the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC). Chestnut Hill had zero.

In Philadelphia, among the 41 zip codes with residents receiving repairs, Germantown (19144) ranked 11th, with only 10 other zip codes having more than 100 recipients.

The PHDC's main goal throughout the 40-year history of the repair program has been to provide a process that homeowners in low-income environments can utilize to sustain life comfortably in their homes. Currently, they are aiming even higher to provide a faster response for applicants in urgent need.

"What we’re looking to do is keep people in their homes, and keep their homes safe and healthy," said George Russell, the PHDC's Director of Home Improvement Programs.

The program offers free repairs for electrical, plumbing, roofing, heating, and carpentry emergencies to homeowners who meet one of the many income requirements.

The average amount awarded for an emergency repair throughout the entire city was $15,813.56, according to the PHDC.

"It’s certainly cheaper for us to spend around $15,000 to fix a house than it is to find new housing – if you’re talking about building affordable housing, you’re talking about a couple of hundred thousand dollars per house," Russell said. "We can spend just a fraction of that to fix up someone's house so they can stay in it. That’s what this program is designed for."

To qualify, a homeowner must earn 60% or below the area median income for their particular family size. For example, 60% of Philadelphia’s area median income for a family of four is $68,650, so a homeowner with a family of four would need to earn that amount or less to qualify. For a family of five, the income limit is $74,150.

Applicants must not own any other property and must be current on their property taxes and water bill.

As Philadelphia's area median income for each family size fluctuates yearly, so do the exact income dollar amount limits. The 60% cutoff always remains.

Applications and income calculations for varying household sizes are available on their website at

"A goal would be to move faster and get things done sooner," said David S. Thomas, President & CEO of the PHDC. "Quite honestly, I don’t know if we can have a better goal than expediency because folks can’t wait."

A main challenge for the PHDC is the waiting list some eligible applicants face before being accepted for home repairs. There were 2,362 recipients but 7,456 applicants in the fiscal year 2022-23.

"We’ve done a really good job since 2016 at wiping out most of our waiting list — we still have about a six-month wait for people from the time they call us until they get an appointment with an intake worker," Russell said. "We make exceptions for people with an emergency; for example, people who don’t have heat in the winter or have sewage accumulating in their basement."

Of the homeowners who received repairs, 1,364 made less than 25% of the area median income for their family size, 879 earned between 25% and 49.99% of the AMI, and 119 were in the 50% to 60% range.

"We’re quasi-government; there’s always a process we have to go through with people to prove their eligibility and then to make sure we’re doing the right work in their house," Russell said. "We’re trying different things to move them through that process faster so we can get repairs done sooner."

According to a PHDC spokesperson, the program is funded by the state's Whole Home Repair Fund, the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative which was approved by City Council, a Community Development Block Grant funded by HUD that comes to PHDC through the Division of Housing and Community Development, and the city’s Housing Trust Fund — all aimed at helping expand, improve, and protect affordable housing options in Philadelphia.

The Restore Repair Renew Program offers another option for residents who make too much to qualify for the BSRP. It grants homeowners a 10-year, three percent fixed-rate loan ranging from $2,500 to $50,000 for various repairs, including mold mitigation. For example, a household of four cannot earn more than $137,300 to qualify.

For Thomas, living in a damaged home with limited resources for repairs can always threaten one's mental health.

"If you live in a distressed environment, you’re going to be stressed, and that only exacerbates all that you see in Philadelphia," Thomas said. "[Your home] isn’t supposed to be where you walk in and stress about how to address certain things; your home is supposed to be your haven."