On Groundhog Day, standing outside the recently renovated home of Kelly and Mo Scatena in Pittsburgh, Democratic politicians joined together to call for not just six weeks but another whole season of home improvement.
“I was afraid (my home) was going to crumble out from underneath me … I felt like the wolf was always at the door,” Kelly Scatena said, referring to overdue repairs for a leaking roof and cracked foundation, which were remedied using Whole Home Repair dollars. “Home is a place where you should feel safe, and now I have that.”
The Whole Home Repairs Program, a home improvement and weatherization initiative created through bipartisan legislation last year, is coming up on a calendar year of providing homeowners and small landlords with grants and forgivable loans to repair and weatherize their properties.
Highlighting the program’s successes and the large number of applicants seeking funding for projects, Democratic lawmakers said more investment is needed to meet demand across the commonwealth.
“This program creates a one-stop shop in each county in our commonwealth for home repairs and weatherization while building up our local workforce and adding new family-sustaining jobs,” state Sen. Nikil Saval said Friday.
Saval, a Philadelphia Democrat who sponsored the Whole Home Repairs Act, was joined by Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, U.S. Rep. Summer Lee and fellow legislators during Friday’s press conference. He noted that the act is a unique piece of legislation that has since been replicated in other states.
“Now, states like Maine, Rhode Island and Maryland have adopted versions of this program,” Saval added. “Through the Whole Home Repairs Program, Pennsylvania can tackle many of the root causes of community instability by keeping people in their homes and keeping those homes safe and healthy.”
Innamorato, a former state representative and supporter of the original legislation during her time in Harrisburg, said at Friday’s press conference that 96% of eligible applicants in Allegheny County had been deferred because of high demand and insufficient funds. They estimated that more than 4,000 applicants in Allegheny County are eligible but remain on a waiting list.
“We know the demand for the program far outstrips available funding,” Innamorato said. “We are going to work diligently to ensure that we put more money in this program and set an example for the entire commonwealth right here in Allegheny County – and the commonwealth can set an example for everywhere across this nation.”
The calls for greater investment in the Whole Home Repairs Act come just days ahead of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget address on Tuesday. The original bill, passed in a bipartisan fashion in 2022, allows homeowners and landlords to apply for up to $50,000 to repair their homes through the Department of Community and Economic Development. The program has not only provided funding for repairs but also support staff for people in need of help accessing repair assistance, and financial support for training and pre-apprenticeship programs to boost retention in the labor sector.
While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for the program, Shapiro’s budget address next week and subsequent budget negotiations will determine if and how much the program will receive from Harrisburg.