This story first appeared in The Investigator, a weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA featuring the best investigative and accountability journalism from across Pennsylvania. Sign up for free here.
HARRISBURG — As a new $125 million Pennsylvania grant program for home repairs gets underway, demand is expected to be overwhelming and supporters are calling for the state legislature to make the one-time funding permanent.
Homeowners in three rural counties, however, won’t be able to receive any of the money. Local officials in those areas did not apply to the state Department of Community and Economic Development to receive the funding and their share was reallocated among the 64 counties that did.
The Whole-Home Repairs Program, funded with federal pandemic aid, offers grants and forgivable loans of up to $50,000 for homeowners and small landlords to fix problems like leaky roofs or exposed wiring. Other allowable uses for the money include making a property more energy-efficient, making it more accessible for residents with disabilities, or repair-related job training.
Approved by lawmakers last summer, the program is one of Pennsylvania’s largest investments in housing in recent years. It also represents a rare bipartisan success story, having won support from Republicans despite being introduced by Democratic state Sen. Nikil Saval of Philadelphia, one of Harrisburg’s most progressive lawmakers.
The fact that 64 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties applied for the funding shows a “near-universal level of participation” that underscores the overwhelming need, said Natasha Cahill, a spokesperson for Saval.
So why did a few counties leave the money on the table?
A mixture of not knowing the funding was available and concerns over being able to handle another grant program.
Adams County Manager Steve Nevada said he wasn’t immediately sure why the county hadn’t applied.
Brian Allen, chair of the Board of Perry County Commissioners, said county officials didn’t know about the program in time to apply. There was also confusion, he said, because the county has its own home repair program; when a resident recently called to ask about the new state initiative, he said, he assumed they were referring to the existing one. “If it opens back up, we’ll be first in line,” Allen said.
In a statement, a DCED spokesperson said the agency took “extensive action” to ensure that all 67 counties knew about the Whole-Home Repairs Program, including organizing an information session that all three Perry County commissioners, as well as the chief clerk and solicitor, were invited to attend.
Sullivan County Commissioner Brian Hoffman told Spotlight PA the county decided not to apply for the funding because it already has difficulty spending the smaller amounts of money allocated to its existing home repair program. There is a need for the funding, he said, but finding contractors willing to bid on the work is challenging. The high cost of repairs also makes some projects unworkable.
Additionally, he said, the county has been overwhelmed by the flood of COVID-related grants and doesn’t have the resources to take on a new program. Sullivan County stood to receive an estimated $200,000 from the Whole-Home Repairs Program and getting that funding out would have been a major administrative challenge, Hoffman said.
“It’s almost like too much money at the same time.”
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