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

Dec 9, 2015


Nymiura Lee stands on the third floor of her grandparents' home in North Philadelphia.
Credit Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

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.


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

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