Nikil Saval leads bipartisan effort, secures $125 million for Whole-Home Repairs Act
The PA State Senator hopes to tackle infrastructure and jobs.
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Residents of Pennsylvania homeowners will experience financial relief after State Senator Nikil Saval’s Whole Home Repairs Act was included last week as part of the new state budget. It allocates $125 million in funding for home repairs and weatherization costs across the state.
“I’m very proud of our office and the coalition that we’ve built of organizations and legislators to get this over the finish line. It’s difficult to pass legislation in Harrisburg; it’s difficult to pass legislation in the minority and as a junior legislator,” Saval said in an interview with AL DÍA.
Qualifying households are eligible for up to $50,000 to address infrastructure issues like mold and lead, as well as undercut mounting utility bills by ensuring urgent and necessary upgrades. According to the program, low-income families spend 25% more on bills than any other Pennsylvanian.
PA is home to some of the oldest housing stock in the nation. According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, approximately 40% of units were built before 1950 and 95% before 1978, resulting in dire conditions for residents who inhabit them.
“We’re always striving and fighting and advocating for increased resources,” said María González, President & CEO of HACE, a Philadelphia nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the Latino population secure housing and general real estate development.
“One critical component that keeps getting bypassed is resources for home repairs, which is really critical because we believe that the most affordable housing that we have is the one that we already own,” she continued.
González went on to say that “unfortunately when we have low-income homeowners that don’t have the resources to be able to make those improvements, (...) a program like this is able to provide resources to make sure that we provide stability,” she said.
The financial burden is much more significant over the long term, subjecting residents to temporary relief measures, resulting in a higher expense for short-term solutions.
According to a 2017 housing report by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, those aged 65 or older make up 17% of the population, and 17% of that segment are disabled, with projections expected to increase over the years.
“One of the key aspects of this program is that it’s meant to offer financing for administrative support. In other words, the county-designated agencies, to be able to acquire the staff so that they can do the necessary technical assistance and coordination for the [diverse] population that we have in our Commonwealth,” Saval explained.
“And ensure that they don’t face barriers to accessing support. There is money to make it administratively easier to reach more people,” he continued.
Applicants are also eligible to apply to what senator Saval called “adaptive modifications.”
Additionally, Black, Hispanic and disabled homeowners are positioned in lower brackets when it comes to income yet pay significantly more in the long term. Statistically, these groups comprise a large portion of the population that would most urgently require access to funding.
“In the coalition to pass this legislation, we had a number of groups that organize, speaking broadly, among Spanish-speaking immigrants. Makes the Road Pennsylvania, CASA, they were all big parts of the coalition,” Naval commented regarding the outreach work that was a part of the overall program design.
“Many of the people who testified for the need of the program were Spanish-speaking citizens of Pennsylvania. That was part of the coalition that secured the passage of the legislation,” he added.
Though the Whole-Homes Repairs Program has yet to ramp up implementation, Saval, in a successful bipartisan effort, emphasized that its structure is designed to be accessible, both administratively and on the ground.
As part of the law’s configuration, staff will be trained to support a wide range of PA’s diverse population. Counties can apply via assigned, existing entities that already perform home repairs.
“Each of these entities will have to do all three parts of the program. They have to do home repairs, assistance with other existing programs, and they have to do workforce development,’” Saval clarified.
The Whole-Homes Repairs Program was successfully passed on July 8 as part of the PA budget and has been lauded as an unprecedented victory for housing justice.