Healthy Rowhouse Project

A Center for Architecture Initiative
Sign On Twitter
Menu

Recognizing the Opportunity

Why now?

Philadelphia has an extraordinary opportunity to preserve its iconic rowhouses and improve the health of the Philadelphians who live there. A coordinated program that uses proven strategies, financing tools, and professional expertise can improve the condition of 5,000 rowhouses annually. Why now?

People WANT IT

At community meetings across the city, Philadelphia property owners are speaking about their need for help maintaining their properties. At Philadelphia2035 community meetings, residents expressed how much they “want existing housing and infill housing to be the City’s priority.”1 Over 6,000 homeowners are on waiting lists for the city’s Basic System Repair Program.

Science CONFIRMS IT

Dozens of studies show conclusively that housing quality and health are inextricably linked. Houses in lower-income communities are more likely to have substandard conditions that cause increased hospitalizations, absences from school and work, and higher health care costs. Repairing basic house systems not only reduces illness, it lowers health costs and improves residents’ quality of life.

Pilot AFFIRMS IT

The successful 2013-2014 pilot program between the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and St. Christopher’s Hospital showed the extraordinary benefits of removing illness-causing conditions. The pilot program repaired homes to remove conditions that trigger asthma at an average cost of $3,500 per house.2 Within six months children’s emergency room visits dropped by 70% and missed school days decreased by more than half.

Neighborhoods NEED IT

A deteriorated house hurts all of the properties around it, spreading water damage and pests and removing owners’ motivation to invest in their buildings. Philadelphia neighborhoods have lost thousands of affordable homes to abandonment over the past six decades. Now that we are growing again, there is no reason to lose more.

Market changes DEMAND IT

In neighborhoods where market demand is growing, deterioration in homes is seen as a key driver of displacement. People who earn less than $35,000 owned almost 38% of owner-occupied city residences in 2012.3 Deteriorating housing conditions are an expense that can force lower income homeowners to sell and leave neighborhoods just as new amenities are arriving. In neighborhoods that are still waiting for new investment, rowhouse repairs are essential in order to allow owners to hang on a few more years until there is stronger market demand. Healthy Rowhouse programs can reward the tenacity and stabilizing effect of tens of thousands of low-income households by helping them gain wealth as property values increase.

Property values SUPPORT IT

According to the Econsult Solutions Philadelphia Housing Index, the median value of a single-family house sold in Philadelphia increased by 22 percent citywide from 2004 to 2014, with the highest increase in South Philadelphia (151% percent).4 Rising property values create enough home equity in many Philadelphia neighborhoods to allow a property owner to finance home repairs with a low interest loan or a deferred loan due upon sale of the house, and still make a profit. Rising values make many financing tools viable, allowing thousands more houses to receive assistance each year.

 

Broad alliance APPLAUDS IT

It is not often that Philadelphia doctors, real estate developers, teachers, neighborhood advocates, architects, minimum wage workers, and environmental leaders can agree on something, but the Healthy Rowhouse Project has united these diverse constituencies. A broad alliance of organizations agree that it makes good sense to make a small investment in thousands of privately owned rowhouses in order to leverage improvements to health and housing.

What can rowhouse preservation achieve?

Repairing substandard conditions in rowhouses will:

Reinforce the strength and identity of neighborhoods.

Deteriorated homes discourage investments by neighbors and drive away prospective owners. Streets of well-maintained homes reinforce property values, help people to affordably remain in their homes, and create wealth for owners. Preserving this extraordinary form of workforce housing can turn a cycle of disinvestment and decline into a self-reinforcing cycle of growth, wealth-creation and job creation.5

Stabilize families and reduce displacement.

Philadelphians want to remain in their homes even when their homes have deteriorated to the point that their health and quality of life are compromised. Neighborhoods attracting new investment should be good for low-and moderate-income owners, but too many owners lack the resources to maintain their homes, so such owners find themselves at great risk for displacement. Supporting home repairs for low-and moderate-income families can help owners enjoy the benefits of rising values rather than face destabilizing moves, abandonment, or even homelessness.

Extend limited public dollars farther to have greater economic impact and create more jobs.

Rehabilitation and repair is a powerful economic investment. Each repair dollar spent generates $2.28 in economic impact. By contrast, $1 spent in new single-family construction generates only $1.62 in economic impact for the city. Remodeling and repair generates 20 jobs for each $1 million spent compared to 14.2 jobs for new construction.6

Preserving rowhouses is an environmentally and economically sustainable strategy.

For the minimum of $300,000 it takes to build a new affordable house in Philadelphia, between 14 and 30 homes can be improved. Preserving rowhouse blocks builds on the architecturally significant assets that are amenities unique to Philadelphia. Preserving existing resources is environmentally sustainable. The most sustainable home is the one that already exists.

  1. Philadelphia2035 Citywide Vision (Released June 2011).
  2. Removing asthma triggers typically involves controlling moisture or water entry into the home, mold, dust mites and pest infestation. Behavioral issues like smoking were also addressed.
  3. Homeownership in Philadelphia: On the Decline, The Pew Charitable Trusts (July 2014).
  4. This analysis of single-family home sale prices does not include condominiums.
  5. Homeownership remains the single most important source of wealth for lower-income people. Christopher E. Herbert, Daniel T. McCue, and Rocio Sanchez-Moyano, Is Homeownership Still an Effective Means of Building Wealth for Low-income and Minority Households? (Was It Ever?) , (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies, 2013).
  6. Invest In The Housing Trust Fund, Housing Alliance of PA (2014) p.1.  US Department of Commerce – Bureau of Economic Analysis (2007), US Census Bureau (2007), as cited in Rebuilding Pennsylvania’s Housing Market, Econsult Corporation for the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, May 2009.
  7. Housing Market, Econsult Corporation for the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, May 2009.
  8. Genworth Financial Inc. Average Annual Care Costs for Philadelphia Area, PA in 2014.
  9. Nicholas Zill, Better Prospects, Lower Cost: The Case for Increasing Foster Care Adoption (May 2011).
  10. Costs Associated with First-Time Homelessness for Families and Individuals, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research (2010).
  11. Commissioner Burns Announced Huge Efficiencies in Licenses and Inspections’ Demolition Program, Mayor’s Press Release March 22, 2010.