The City of Philadelphia could put over $50 million into home and rental repairs to help residents recover from the remnants of Hurricane Ida in 2021. Officials estimate the unmet need to be much greater.
The money comes from a pot of over $163 million the city received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to support long-term recovery from the storm.
“It’s not enough money,” said architect Brian Baer, who is currently doing Ida damage assessments in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood. “But [this type of] grant for disaster recovery — there’s never enough money.”
The federal grant, which is expected to be spent over six years starting in early 2024, can pay for both recovery efforts and projects that make the city more resilient to future flooding. City officials plan to spend most of the money to fund home repairs and infrastructure improvements, according to a draft Action Plan for the grant funding. Officials identified housing as the largest category of unmet need remaining from the storm.
In the city of Philadelphia, roughly 55,000 households — more than half of them renters — applied for FEMA aid. Fewer than 20% of these applicants received assistance, and most of those who did were homeowners, according to the city’s recovery funding plan.
Nearly two years after the storm, many households whose homes were damaged have still not recovered, said Baer, who leads the design firm The Elevated Studio. He’s doing the damage assessments on roughly 200 homes in Strawberry Mansion in order to coordinate volunteer repair efforts through the Pennsylvania Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
Ida damaged roofs and flooded basements when rapid rainfall overwhelmed storm drains, Baer said.
“Most of the repairs haven’t even been started, let alone completed,” Baer said.
FEMA verified that nearly 11,000 properties in the city were damaged by the storm, primarily in North and West Philly. But city officials believe the true number is “substantially higher,” according to the funding plan, and estimate the unmet need for real property recovery sits upwards of $810 million.
The Homeowner Repair Program proposed in the city’s draft plan would put over $42 million toward repairing homes and boosting their accessibility and resilience to climate change. It would fund up to $150,000 worth of repairs contracted by the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation per home or zero-interest loans to homeowners.
As proposed, the program would be restricted to applicants who own and live in their homes and who earn no more than 80% of the area median income.
The draft plan also specifies that in order to be eligible for the program, homes cannot be located in a floodplain. Russell Zerbo, an advocate with the nonprofit Clean Air Council, worries this rule could exclude residents of flood-prone Eastwick, much of which is within the 100-year floodplain.
“To exclude them from this funding source just did not seem right,” Zerbo said.
The draft plan notes that flooding from Ida happened not only within the 100-year floodplain, and that residents outside of this mapped floodplain — particularly those with limited financial resources — “are less likely to access proper resources to respond to damages incurred.” In a written statement, spokesperson Sarah Peterson said the City is “actively exploring strategies” to address buildings in flood zones.