(Photo by Flickr user Ian Freimuth, used under a Creative Commons license)
Ambitious and exciting development projects are in the works in and around West Philadelphia‘s most impoverished neighborhoods.
But beneath the futuristic skyscrapers that stretch across glossy renderings sit aging rowhomes in dire need of rehabilitation — and their longtime owners who can’t afford to pay for repairs. For impoverished homeowners in West Philly’s Mantua and Powelton Village neighborhoods, pressure mounts with each announcement of new development plans.
“They see all this new construction — affordable housing and mixed-use development going on around them. For long-term residents who are struggling, they don’t see resources flowing to them,” said Dana Hanchin, deputy director at Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).
"For long-term residents who are struggling, they don’t see resources flowing to them."
Residents in those neighborhoods have handed homes down from one generation to the next for the better part of a century — much of the housing stock was built before 1938, according to Hanchin — resulting in high levels of homeownership.
But income levels in the neighborhoods are low. Two years ago, the area was inducted into the White House‘s first cohort of Promise Zones — deeply impoverished areas where need for investment is extraordinarily high.
The announcement came on the heels of two plans released by a pair of local nonprofits working in the area. Those plans, developed by Mount Vernon Manor and People’s Emergency Center, eventually spawned the Home Preservation Initiative (HPI).
The two-year-old collaboration features a growing number of nonprofit partners, all of which are working to repair homes, decrease health hazards and increase quality of life in five adjacent West Philly neighborhoods.
“This is an effort in a particular neighborhood to respond to residents’ needs and desires, their aspirations to stay where they grew up and where they raised their kids and to be able to live in the homes they’ve lived in, in some cases, for generations,” said LISC Executive Director Andrew Frishkoff.
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HPI is a multifaceted initiative that relies on specific roles played by each of its stakeholders:
- Philadelphia LISC — Convener, facilitator and part-funder
- Mount Vernon Manor — Community outreach
- People’s Emergency Center — Community outreach, home repair
- Rebuilding Together Philadelphia — Home repair
- Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia — Home repair
- Drexel University’s School of Public Health — Developing qualitative study to gauge the effects of HPI on the health and quality of life of neighborhood residents
- National Nursing Center Consortium — Provides in-home behavioral health programming for families
Early on in the process, Hanchin said, LISC worked with Reinvestment Fund to research the history of repair work done in the neighborhoods over the past decade. The results were heartening: Over 1,000 homes in the area had been serviced by a number of HPI partners at different points in time.
“We already had a track record of working together,” Hanchin said. “We just didn’t know it.”
Now, HPI partners make a point to share data as to avoid repeat efforts. A cohesive effort is needed to refrain from confusing neighbors with multiple teams donning multiple brands.
Still, navigating a collaboration like HPI is no easy task. Rebuilding Together Executive Director Stefanie Seldin said every partner involved in HPI knows what the others do best.
“We overlap on neighborhoods that are too big for any one agency to handle on their own, and we do it based on what we’re good at,” she said. “Habitat has a team doing windows. We pay for the windows, and Habitat comes in and replaces them.”
Hanchin said each home repair costs somewhere in the range of $5,000 to $8,000 dollars. Per usual, funding is the collaboration’s biggest threat — each partner brings its own capital to the table.
"Why people move isn’t necessarily because their taxes go up, but because they can’t afford the home repairs."
“For whatever reason, home repair just is not on their priority right now [but] it impacts the quality of life not just for the folks in these houses, but for any Philadelphian who cares about the diversity of neighborhoods,” she said. “Some people will realize home repairs are a big part of that. Why people move isn’t necessarily because their taxes go up, but because they can’t afford the home repairs.”
While Hanchin said HPI is currently fundraising, those funds hinge on results: Last year, HPI repaired 50 homes. This year the partners are shooting for 75, and a goal of 100 homes is set for 2017. Drexel’s study will also factor in when the partners seek investment from health funders.
This is, after all, as much a health initiative as it is home repair.
“Even just having a safe and warm house in and of itself will improve health outcomes,” Frishkoff said.
Ultimately, stakeholders hope HPI can rally the public and philanthropic support necessary to scale their partnership model across Philadelphia.
“If we can model this out, we can have an impact, no doubt about it,” Frishkoff said. “We’ll try to learn what we can, share that knowledge and help try to grow system-wide improvements.”-30-
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