Houses tend to represent some of the most enduring elements of the built environment. While commercial or office structures are built, demolished and redeveloped into other types of uses, the housing stock tends to remain for a long time. In Chester County, much of the moderately-priced housing is older, and located within the urban centers. It is critical that these affordable homes are properly maintained and remain within the supply of affordable housing.
Housing maintenance and repair is a serious issue in some Chester County neighborhoods. However, the public, private, and nonprofit sectors are working together to make housing rehabilitation services available to those who need them. Promoting the rehabilitation of existing housing not only helps to maintain housing that is affordable for all socioeconomic sectors, it also supports broader revitalization goals. Housing rehabilitation often will encourage and complement other community development activities, including streetscape improvements, pedestrian circulation amenities, infrastructure upgrades, community parks cleanup, and rehabilitation of neighboring properties. All these efforts can stabilize or increase property values and create a stronger sense of community and civic pride.
Housing Rehabilitation can provide the following benefits:
- Energy Conservation: Home rehabilitation inherently conserves energy because it promotes the continued use of existing buildings and the preservation of the embodied energy that is captured in the structure (such as the energy used to create the timber, glass, concrete, steel, metals, etc. that form the structure). It also allows the use of energy efficient materials and designs in rehabilitation projects.
- Housing Preservation: Home rehabilitation preserves the existing housing stock, and maintains the availability of affordable housing.
- Community Development: Home rehabilitation can spur redevelopment and reinvestment in distressed communities.
- Reinvestment: Funding, available through the County for home maintenance and rehabilitation services, is targeted where needed for neighborhood reinvestment.
- Community Building: Individuals and families benefit from rehabilitation of substandard housing, which improves their quality of life.
- Aging in Place: Senior citizens are assisted with home maintenance and repairs that support them to remain living within their neighborhoods.
The following limitations can be associated with housing rehabilitation:
- Regulatory Barriers: Regulations may make rehabilitation unnecessarily expensive and time consuming.
- Age and Condition: The condition, age and original construction methods can add difficulty in rehabilitating existing housing stock.
- Limited Resources: Homeowners and landlords may not have sufficient financial resources to meet home maintenance and rehabilitation needs.
Municipalities can promote housing rehabilitation in a number of ways. Providing information to low- and moderate-income homeowners about available rehabilitation services will help educate the community about this issue. Some municipalities sponsor faÃ§ade improvement programs that benefit properties in downtown and adjacent residential areas. Municipal codes and ordinances could encourage energy-efficiency and green construction as applied to rehabilitation projects. Permitting fees and inspections processes could be simplified for housing rehabilitation efforts such that homeowners are not discouraged from taking on and completing projects. Nonprofit organizations in Chester County periodically offer home maintenance and repair workshops, which can be hosted at municipal office buildings or local places of worship.
There are many organizations in Chester County that provide housing rehabilitation services. Individuals interested in housing rehabilitation can refer to the following websites:
- Good Neighbors Inc., an organization that provides home repairs and financial guidance to homeowners who lack the physical or financial means to make necessary home repairs, in southern Chester County.
- Good Works, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to repairing homes for low-income homeowners in Chester County.
- Habitat for Humanity of Chester County
- Housing Partnership of Chester County
- Section 301.(a)(2.1) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code states that a municipal or multimunicipal comprehensive plan shall include a housing plan to meet the housing needs of present residents and of those individuals and families anticipated to reside in the community, including the rehabilitation of housing.
- The US Department of Housing and Urban Development's publication, Best Practices for Effecting the Rehabilitation of Affordable Housing.
- The County Planning Commission maintains a list of online resources for housing issues, including housing rehabilitation.
- Adaptive Reuse
- Aging in Place
- Historic Resource Preservation Planning
- Residential Conversions
- Housing Diversity
Landscapes2, the 2009 Chester County Comprehensive Plan, promotes housing rehabilitation to increase diverse and affordable housing options. Specific housing policies identified in Landscapes2 include identifying and rehabilitating substandard housing County-wide to conserve existing housing stock in developed areas, encouraging the rehabilitation and preservation of both ownership and rental homes for affordable housing, encouraging the rehabilitation and improvement of publicly owned or operated housing units, and implementing programs addressing housing rehabilitation and home maintenance needs throughout the County.
Landscapes2 also recommends that municipalities identify vacant, unused or underutilized buildings that have the potential for redevelopment as medium to high density housing, offer development incentives for the redevelopment of those properties, create incentives for the redevelopment of housing that meets green building standards, and inform residents about the resources available to assist with home repair and maintenance needs. This tool also promotes energy conservation, which is one of the primary objectives of Landscapes2.