Healthy Rowhouse Project

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Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Advisory Group Releases Final Report

Philadelphia has a persistent childhood lead poisoning problem. In December 2016, Mayor Jim Kenney released a plan called “Lead Free Kids” to improve the city’s efforts to prevent lead poisoning. Along with this plan, the Mayor convened a Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group. A coalition with representatives from city and state government, healthcare providers, landlord organizations, advocacy groups and other stakeholders, the Advisory Group worked to craft final recommendations to help guide the city’s ongoing work to address the problem of childhood lead poisoning.

To expand upon the city’s current plans, the Group offers three recommendations for primary prevention: to expand the Lead Paint Disclosure Law to all rental units built before 1978, increase funding for landlords to remediate properties if they show financial hardship, and explore a pilot program for proactive housing inspections in high-risk areas. For secondary prevention, the group recommends seeking state cooperation to submit a Medicaid waiver to increase funding for home remediation (along with maximizing billing of Medicaid under current rules) and monitoring research on lead exposure to modify PDPH protocols as appropriate.

Lead poisoning is a serious problem for many Philadelphia children. With Mayor Keeney’s “Lead-Free Kids” plan and the recommendations from the Advisory Group, the City hopes to reduce the number of children with blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 μg/dL by 40% from 2,106 children in 2011 to 1,200 children in 2020.

The Home Preservation Initiative is Underway

Healthy Rowhouse Project is pleased to share news of a major step forward in helping Philadelphia homeowners. On May 18, City Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilwoman Cherelle Parker announced that long-awaited $60 million funding for homeowners in need of home repair grants is set for distribution. Mayor Jim Kenney, Deputy Director for Housing Fred Purnell and affordable housing advocates joined Clarke and Parker to make the announcement.

The funding is the result of a $100 million bond issue financed by a 2016 increase in the real estate transfer tax. Clarke proposed that the revenue raised from the modest increase should go toward funding three Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC) programs: The Basic Systems Repair Program (BSRP), Adaptive Modifications Program (AMP), and Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). The other $40 million is slated to be part of a loan program for families in need of health-related home repair who need access to home improvement loans rather than grants to repair their homes.  These programs are designed to assist homeowners who need help paying for much-needed repairs on aging buildings, such as leaky roofs, mold infestation, faulty plumbing and structural damage. Like Healthy Rowhouse Project, this initiative is designed to improve conditions in rowhouses occupied by homeowners and renters with a specific emphasis on homes where disrepair is adversely affecting the occupants’ health.

  • BSRP provides free repairs to the electrical, plumbing and heating systems of owner-occupied homes in Philadelphia. BSRP may also provide free replacement of a house’s roof if major interior damage such as a collapsing ceiling is evident.
  • AMP funding assists Philadelphians with disabilities so they can upgrade their homes to accommodate wheelchairs or special modifications.
  • WAP funding, in addition to fixing existing problems, will pay for weatherization and efficiency modifications that can lower utility bills for low or fixed income homeowners.

Seventy percent of homeowners in Philadelphia reside in rowhouses, and most of these buildings date back to the 1950s and earlier. Many residents of these houses are senior citizens, and many have limited incomes. Rowhouses that have received substandard maintenance and are in poor repair pose health risks due to mold, water infiltration, crumbling structures, and poor insulation. Lower and middle-income homeowners have been waiting for up to five years for grant assistance from the city. Providing such assistance helps homeowners and stay in their homes and their communities—and helps neighborhoods resist the forces of both gentrification and decay.

What is the Home Preservation Initiative?

In 2016, City Council President Darrell Clarke introduced a proposal to sell $100 million bonds in order to provide free home repairs to Philadelphia’s lowest income homeowners and make low interest loans available to those homeowners with the ability to make monthly payments. The loan and grant programs strengthen city programs aimed at helping residents complete repairs that would allow them to preserve their homes—many of which are owner-occupied properties.

Clarke’s office has convened three working groups to identify the most efficient and effective ways to use these funds. The working groups were made up of local non-profits involved in repairing and preserving affordable housing and representatives from city agencies and Council offices.

The $100 million bond sale is proposed to be split into two funds, described below.

$60 Million: Paring Down the Waitlist for the Basic Systems Repair Program (BSRP)

$60 million will be dedicated to the City’s Adaptive Modifications Program (AMP), the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and, most critically, to paring down the 7,000-strong waitlist on the City’s Basic Systems Repair Program (BSRP).

$40 Million: Creating a Loan Program

Grants from the Basic Systems Repair Program are limited by household income, with eligible households earning no more than $36,900 for a family of four. Healthy Rowhouse Project, in conjunction with Reinvestment Fund, has found that some households may have too much income to qualify for grants but still struggle to get loans on the private market to complete important home repairs. To address that need, the city is proposing to direct $40 million to create a loan reserve fund to incentivize private lenders to extend credit to homeowners with lower incomes and less than perfect credit. Such a fund could keep interest rates low and reduce risk for private lenders.

How emergency rooms treat poorer kids differently

Studies show that investing in health care for children delivers long-term benefits. As public health insurance expanded in the 1980s and 1990s, researchers found that children became become more likely to finish high school and college. They earned more as adults and paid more in taxes.

There’s another, less-comforting lesson we can learn from the government’s efforts to provide health care to every child. Read More…