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Identity & Community
00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f771360000Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival? explores the urgent challenges pressing upon Pennsylvania's cities. Four public media newsrooms are collaborating to report in depth on the root causes of our state's urban crisis -- and on possible solutions. Keystone Crossroads offers reports on radio, web, social media, television and newspapers, and through public events.Our partner stations are WHYY in Philadelphia, WPSU in State College and witf in Harrisburg. Read all of the partner stories here.Pittsburgh’s WQED joins the collaboration as an associate partner. Support for this project comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Pennsylvania's Houses Are Old — And That's A Problem For Everyone

Lindsay Lazarski


Around Pennsylvania, you'll see lots of historic homes: romantic 18th century red brick houses, stately Victorian-era mansions and dense rowhomes built for industrial workers. 

The state's old houses, half of which were built before 1959, can give a neighborhood character. But they can also cause a lot of problems.

Some of the homes are filled with health hazards like lead paint and ancient wiring. Others are simply falling apart with age.

And many residents can't afford the repairs.

In Pittsburgh, Deborah Stevens-Fowler, who is 66 years old, lives in a brick house built in 1925. When she moved in 20 years ago, the house was in good condition. But it needs work now.

The bathroom in Stevens-Fowlers' home has dated fixtures and rotting wood. There's no ventilation in the bathroom and the window does not stay closed, leading to standing moisture and mold.


Credit Irina Zhorov / WESA
The bathroom in Stephens-Fowler's home.

Mold also creeps up the walls of the basement, which floods every time it rains. Stevens-Fowler says she always rushes to turn on her sump pump, which she has to do manually.

"But then if the pump runs too long, the motor starts to burn." she said. "So you gotta come down, unplug it for a while and let it cool off. It's a little trying."

She can't run the pump at the same time as her other appliances because overloading the old electrical wiring in the house causes the power to go out.

Stevens-Fowler also has health issues which she thinks the mold and old materials in the house exacerbate.

But she is retired and lives on a fixed income, so she can't afford to fix the house. She has applied for several programs that offer free repairs to homeowners. In the meantime, she's staying put.

Read more of this report on the site of our partner, Keystone Crossroads