A new state program to assist homeowners and small landlords in making repairs to their properties will open applications Tuesday in Allegheny County.

Grants of up to $50,000 are available for homeowners, as well as forgivable loans of the same amount for landlords who own a maximum of five properties, through the Whole-Home Repairs program. Homeowners whose household income doesn’t exceed 80% of the area median income are eligible for the program.

The funding is administered in each of the 64 participating counties by a different entity, and Action Housing will manage Allegheny County’s nearly $13 million. Dan Sullivan, the nonprofit’s housing stabilization program manager, told the Union Progress that the application window will be open from May 30 to June 30.

“It is the simplest application I have ever seen,” he said. “It can be done online; there is also the opportunity to request a paper application.”

Sullivan added that he expects about 3,000 applications to be submitted, but only 200 to 250 will ultimately be approved due to limited money, with the remainder deferred and kept on hand for potential future rounds of funding.

“We have a very old housing stock. We have a very, very wet climate — the enemy of a house is wet,” he said. “I don’t think it’s out of the world to think that, out of the $125 million that the state received in whole, Allegheny County [residents] could have used all of that themselves.”

Program funding can also be used for workforce development, so there are enough trained contractors to actually perform the funded repairs. Action Housing is partnering with the local organization Women for a Healthy Environment to spend up to $2.6 million, and will provide laborer and back-office training, certifications and licensing.

“Typically when you run small-money rehab programs, your biggest issue is contractors — you just can’t get contractors,” Sullivan said. “This at least will allow us to say there’s a pool of contractors that we can help rev up. We can get them laborers, we can get them back-office staff, so they can be in compliance to run these programs.”

Another component is creating a universal application for all home assistance programs. A new computer system built by Deloitte will be used for Whole-Home Repairs, and Sullivan said Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Allegheny County Economic Development are working to fold in applications for existing programs. The Richard King Mellon Foundation and Heinz Endowments are helping to pay for the new system.

Whole-Home Repairs received bipartisan approval last summer from the General Assembly and was funded this year with $125 million of leftover federal American Rescue Plan Act money. State Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Lawrenceville, was the program’s lead sponsor in the state House and told the Union Progress that the process was the “closest thing we’ve ever gotten to ‘Schoolhouse Rock.’”

“Without even having done a single home at this point through this money, we’re like, ‘The demand is there,’” she said.

State Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia, speaks at a news conference about the Whole-Home Repairs program, April 20, 2023. (James Robinson/Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus)

The program is starting to be seen as a national model, according to state Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia. He spearheaded the program in the state Senate and traveled across Pennsylvania to build support, telling the Union Progress that the White House invited him late last year to participate in a meeting about housing affordability.

“Whole-Home Repairs will soon be touching virtually every part of the commonwealth,” Saval said. “That was what we had hoped for, and we’re just very excited to see that coming to fruition.”

It remains to be seen whether the program will receive funding in this year’s budget, although Gov. Josh Shapiro gave it a shoutout during his March budget address and said he wanted to “support and grow this initiative for many years to come.”

Innamorato said leadership has been approached with a $300 million ask for the program. She said key legislators — including state Rep. Jordan Harris, the Philadelphia Democrat who leads the Appropriations Committee — have been supportive of the program.

“We’ll see what we can get,” said Innamorato, who is the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 7 election for Allegheny County executive and vice chair of the state House’s Housing & Community Development Committee.

Saval, who is the minority chair on the state Senate’s Urban Affairs & Housing Committee, emphasized it’s important to find a funding amount that “we can maintain and that will be recurring.”

“I’m hopeful that all the parties will find a source and a number that will keep the momentum of this program going,” he said. “… It is widely popular across the state and across the country. We need to keep it going in the place where it started and make sure that Pennsylvania continues to be a leader in this area, as people recognize it to be.”

Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at jmoss@unionprogress.com.

Jon Moss

Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at jmoss@unionprogress.com.