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Repairing all the homes in the Philly area would cost at least $3.7 billion

The total cost of home repairs in the Philadelphia region is "kind of conservative," a Philadelphia Fed researcher said. Homeowners and renters need help repairing roofs, leaks, and structural damage.

Habitat for Humanity staff and volunteers complete exterior repairs on an owner-occupied home in Philadelphia in 2014. The total cost of the home repairs needed across the Philadelphia metro area in 2022 was at least $3.7 billion, according to a report by the Philadelphia Fed.
Habitat for Humanity staff and volunteers complete exterior repairs on an owner-occupied home in Philadelphia in 2014. The total cost of the home repairs needed across the Philadelphia metro area in 2022 was at least $3.7 billion, according to a report by the Philadelphia Fed.Read moreCourtesy of Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia

Deborah Sheard knew that her 120-year-old West Philadelphia rowhouse needed a lot of work. The upstairs bathroom was caving in. Walls were damaged. She got used to leaks in her roof.

“Every time it rained — drip, drip, drip, the ceiling would open,” said Sheard, 65.

She wanted to stay in her home of three decades, where she raised her daughter. But with her fixed and limited income, she could only afford a few short-term repairs that didn’t do much.

Then, a friend told her about Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. The nonprofit completed extensive repairs on her home last year, including renovating her damaged kitchen and repairing her bathroom and roof. She paid a total of $350 over four months.

“I was just so happy that I was able to get [the repairs] and at an affordable price,” she said.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia’s affordable housing strategy depends on repairing existing homes

The cost of everything has gone up, due to inflation and supply-chain issues, and that includes home repairs.

Last year, the repairs needed across the Philadelphia metropolitan area would have cost at least $3.7 billion to complete, according to a report the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia published this month.

And cost estimates “are kind of conservative,” said Eileen Divringi, the report’s author and a community development research specialist at the Philadelphia Fed. She considered responses to the Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey, which doesn’t factor in all types of repairs. Lead remediation, for example, which many homes in Philadelphia need, isn’t included.

Keeping homes affordable depends on repairing existing homes.

Housing stock in the Philadelphia region is older than in other regions of the country, which makes the need for repairs more common here.

Predictably, households with lower incomes are more likely to have persistent repair needs because of the quality of the homes they can afford and the bills they have to prioritize. Nationwide, fixing homes would have cost $149.3 billion last year, with almost 40% of those costs concentrated among lower-income households, according to the Philadelphia Fed.

Households that can’t afford to maintain their homes or fix small problems are often faced later with impossibly expensive issues that could cost them their homes. They risk homelessness and the loss of wealth they could have passed on to future generations. Abandoned homes can mean blight for the neighborhood.

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania’s new home-repair program is one step closer to helping homeowners and landlords

In Philadelphia, “we have relatively high home ownership rates but also really entrenched poverty and a good number of poor homeowners,” said Jamaal W. Green, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design. “And that ends up being a recipe for deferred maintenance.”

Homes that need repairs can be unsafe and unhealthy for residents. Previous Philadelphia Fed research found that some of the most common repairs in the region are for leaks, mold, and structural problems, which tend to be expensive.

Philadelphia residents face long wait lists for free or reduced-cost help from home repair programs in the city.

» READ MORE: 6 programs that can help you repair your home for free or at a low cost

“Our neighbors are living without an oven, a shower, a toilet,” said Stefanie Seldin, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, which repairs homes on entire blocks across the city. “It’s very rare that Rebuilding Together will not either completely replace or fix a roof.”

The organization mostly serves Black and Hispanic households, which are much more likely to need home repairs.

Programs to make low-income residents’ homes more energy efficient — a priority as heating, cooling, and electrical costs rise — often require home repairs first. Nationwide, more than one in four low-income homeowners that are burdened by energy costs needed at least one repair in 2021, the year of the housing survey, according to the Philadelphia Fed.

Some highlights from the Philadelphia Fed’s home repair report

Housing quality broadly is an understudied topic, so “it’s an area where just more information is really valuable for designing and scoping policy responses,” Divringi, the Philadelphia Fed report’s author, said.

Nationwide, the need for home repairs declined slightly from 2017 to 2021 for low-income homeowners and renters, even though these groups remained more likely to need repairs than households overall.

One reason for that could be the “unprecedented social safety net response” to the pandemic, Divringi said. Many of those resources are drying or have dried up.

In the Philadelphia metro, about 37% of owner-occupied homes needed repairs in 2022. About 41% of rentals did.

The average cost for repairs in the region was about $4,000.

Repair cost estimates in the report accounted for regional differences, and costs are higher here than in other parts of the country.

‘Tremendous demand’ for home repair help

Melissa Stutzbach, a vice president at the national nonprofit Rebuilding Together, said the report’s findings match what the organization sees in its everyday work across the country and underscores the need for more resources for home repairs.

Green, at Penn, said no comprehensive data exist that show the full extent and severity of home repairs needed in Philadelphia. City inspections, for example, capture only a fraction of the picture.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia home repair grants linked to decreased neighborhood crime, Penn study finds

“We have some unknown number of homes that may be in not-great or dangerous condition, and we would never know, because they don’t require an inspection,” he said. “We don’t know the burden of this, but it’s clear there’s tremendous demand for it.”

Seldin, head of Rebuilding Together’s Philadelphia chapter, said her group is seeing rowhouses in the city that need close to $15,000 worth of repairs, up from around $13,000 a couple years ago.

“Our main function is to revitalize under-resourced communities by transforming these vulnerable houses into safe, healthy, energy-efficient homes,” Seldin said.

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia recently received a $4.13 million, three-year grant from the William Penn Foundation for home repairs and plans to fix 200 homes per year by 2026, double its current rate, said Corinne O’Connell, Habitat’s chief executive officer. The nonprofit’s costs to build new, affordable homes are up 24% from 18 months ago, and prices continue to rise, she said.

“The cost of new construction is prohibitive in the type of scale we need” as a city, O’Connell said. “We have the affordable housing stock. It’s here. It’s falling down around people.”

More funding for home repairs is on the way in Pennsylvania

Through the state’s Whole-Home Repairs Program, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development is awarding funds to counties to help homeowners with limited incomes and small landlords with repairs.

On Friday, Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office announced it issued the first payments to two counties in the Scranton area.

All 64 counties that applied for funds have received contracts, according to the state. Once counties send back signed documents, the state issues funds within days.

» READ MORE: How three new housing policies could help Philadelphians with home repairs and affordability (From 2022)

Philadelphia applied for and stands to receive more than $21 million. It plans to direct the funds into existing local initiatives, such as the Basic Systems Repair Program, which fixes plumbing, heating, structural, and other issues; and the Adaptive Modifications Program, which alters homes for low-income residents with physical disabilities.

Both programs are free for households with annual incomes below certain limits — $56,950 for a household of three.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at