On November 29, 2016, PEA Executive Director Emily Schapira provided testimony to Philadelphia City Council in support of Bill #161014 to provide funding for Philadelphia’s Affordable Housing Preservation Programs. Below is a transcript of the testimony.
TESTIMONY OF EMILY SCHAPIRA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PHILADELPHIA ENERGY AUTHORITY
My name is Emily Schapira, I’m the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Energy Authority. I’d like to express our support both for Bill #161014, to authorize a $60 million bond to clear the City’s home repair programs’ waitlists, and for a future issuance of additional funds to add a loan program to support affordable housing preservation, getting to the root of the problem, not just the symptoms. On the proposed bond, we commend Council for acting to clear the more than 4-year waitlist for all three home repair programs. For over 8,000 Philadelphia households, this will have a substantive impact on quality of life. Basic Systems Repair was intended to provide emergency repairs for homelessness prevention. It is intended to deal with hazardous electrical conditions, major plumbing leaks, heater replacements, collapsing roofs, and structural repairs. BSR’s waitlist means that thousands of Philadelphians, many of whom are seniors, homes with small children, or people with medical conditions, are living in properties that are in desperate decline. The longer major housing issues last, the worse they get, so addressing these issues as quickly as possible is critical. PHDC does an admirable job in trying to weed out the most urgent cases, but CDBG and Housing Trust Fund dollars cannot come close to keeping up with demand. Therefore, we have 3 key recommendations.
1) Process improvements by PHDC. We strongly support PHDC’s efforts to streamline their process to speed up the time it takes to triage, inspect, conduct intake and then send contractors to complete these repairs. Even with additional funding, the current process takes way too long. We hope Council will support and encourage PHDC’s efforts in this regard.
2) Revise PHDC’s repair guidelines to ensure that basic energy standards are incorporated. All new mechanical systems should be EnergyStar, windows should be efficient, and roofs should be insulated. Once these major systems are done inefficiently, it will never make financial sense to go back and redo them efficiently. If homeowners get a free roof but blow 25% of their heating dollars out of that new roof, that may be better than losing 75% of those dollars as was the case when the roof was collapsing, but it has not solved the problem. According to a recent poll by Freddie Mac, more low-income households are concerned about the rising cost of utilities than the rising cost of rent. Lowering utility costs is a key factor to moving out of poverty.
3) Address the core issues at the root of the demand, rather than just the symptoms. This bond will clear the waitlist for now, but Philadelphia’s aging housing stock and high rate of low income homeownership ensure that the waitlist will just build right back up. It is critical that Council act again to next create a program that would integrate and leverage existing programs to incorporate major systems repair with health interventions (including pest control and removing asthma triggers), and energy and weatherization interventions to reduce household expenses and help ensure people can afford to keep the heat on. One of the best examples nationwide of that type of integration is from ECA’s EnergyFit program right here in Philadelphia. ECA spends an average of $23,000 per home (which is less than the City is spending per home now using multiple separate programs). ECA leaves those homes safe, warm, healthy and affordable for the foreseeable future, integrating basic systems, weatherization, healthy homes and other interventions. Without enough grant funding to move this type of integrated program forward at scale, we should be leveraging private investment and new service models, both in our existing programs and hopefully in a future loan program as well.
Thank you for your time.