Homes on the 3700 block of North 15th Street in Nicetown

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Kenneth Foreman and his wife have lived in their Nicetown rowhome for about 14 years. Over the summer, they were hit with a new set of needed repairs — literally.

The house is across the street from the spot where shooter Maurice Hill engaged in his August gun battle with Philadelphia police, injuring six officers. Bullets from both sides sprayed across the neighborhood during the 7-hour standoff, including into the walls and windows of the Foremans’ three-story masonry building.

In a city that’s seen more than 1,000 shootings already this year, home damage from bullets is not uncommon. What is unusual: the Foremans may be able to get their house fixed for free.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is brokering a deal with the building trades unions to provide no-cost repairs to properties on the 3700 block of North 15th Street.

Mrs. Foreman, who asked that her first name be withheld, wasn’t immediately aware of the full extent of the arrangement. “My understanding was that they will be repairing the homes across the street,” she told Billy Penn.

She believed the union would be handling only her home’s window repairs. Not so, said Deputy Mayor of Labor Rich Lazer. Though the deal is not yet finalized, Lazer confirmed the trades would be donating all necessary repairs to houses damaged during the Aug. 14 shootout.

After attending a community meeting organized by Councilwoman Cindy Bass, in whose district the block falls, administration officials initiated the partnership, Lazer said. He opted to ask District Council 21 because its members include primarily glazers, drywall finishers and other relevant tradespeople.

“I reached out to [DC21 Business Manager Joe Ashdale] and asked if they would be willing to do some work to help with the block, replace windows, do some painting, fill some bullet holes, things like that,” Lazer said. “And they were.”

City officials working closely on the initiative said that to their knowledge, this is Philadelphia’s first pro bono arrangement to repair home damages during an officer-involved shooting.

“Knowing of your union’s past generosity and willingness to help whenever needed,” Kenney wrote in a letter dated Oct. 2, “I am again asking for your assistance in helping to heal a community and assist in making repairs to several houses that were damaged due to gun fire during this incident.”

Representatives for the building trades did not immediately return a request for comment.

Homes on the 3700 block of North 15th Street Credit: Emma Lee / WHYY

‘We have no way of knowing whose bullets hit our home’

At least 14 of the hundreds of rounds fired by suspect Maurice Hill and police during the shootout struck the Foreman home, damaging an interior wall, the front door, shutters, custom windows and other parts of the home’s facade. Gunfire caused an estimated $5,000 worth of damage to their property alone.

Without the trade union deal, the Foremans, along with any other property owners who believed their possessions had been damaged during the standoff, would need to submit a claim through through the Office of Risk Management after first initiating a claim with their personal homeowner’s insurance.

With a $3.38 million budget, ORM is tasked with assessing and administering claims and lawsuits filed against the city. According to city officials, any ORM payout for property repairs stemming from the Hill shootout would be the first of its kind in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s protocol is similar to other East Coast cities. If a New York City homeowner sustains property damage during a police-involved shooting, they can file a claim through the Office of the Comptroller. In Washington D.C., homeowners can file a tort liability claim. In all three cities, if a city department or employee was not directly involved in inflicting damages, there is no dedicated remedy for bullet-holed houses.

Tumar Alexander, Philly’s first deputy managing director, told Billy Penn he’d advised property owners on North 15th Street to continue the ORM process until arrangements with the trades have been finalized.

That option does not sit well with the Foremans.

“We have no way of knowing as a homeowner [whose bullets hit our home],” Mrs. Foreman said. “All we know is that our home is damaged due to an incident with the police … I don’t think I should have to file a claim for something you did.”

Philadelphia government agencies and departments keep little record of bullet-marred properties, and property damage victims have few options for assistance in making repairs.

Homes on the 3700 block of North 15th Street Credit: Emma Lee / WHYY

No records of home damage from bullets

At the beginning of October, at least 1,066 people had been shot in Philadelphia, according to police data. In September, a mother and child were injured in North Philadelphia when a stray bullet penetrated their home’s front door after traveling two whole blocks.

While the city and state provides victims resources to accommodate people who are physically or emotionally affected by gun violence, the violence takes a toll on property as well — but to what extent is unclear.

Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections does not keep a record of buildings damaged specifically by bullets or other results of gun violence, L&I spokesperson Karen Guss told Billy Penn.

The Police Department documents property damage caused by gunfire when it is reported by the property owner or discovered by police, spokesperson Capt. Sekou Kinebrew said in an email.

“However,” Kinebrew said, “that type of data is not stored in a retrievable database.”

Even without official records, community leaders and advocates know bullet-battered property is a problem. Charles Carn leads the 13th Ward, the political division that encompasses Nicetown and other parts of North Philly. He said he’s fielded questions from more than a handful of his constituents about what to do after their homes have been shot up.

“It’s a financial problem,” Carn said. “If someone comes up and a bullet hits your window or your storm door, windows are quite expensive these days.”

With limited information and resources, Carn often doesn’t know what to tell people.

“What I’ve encountered is the fact that people are using their own money to fix it up,” he said. “I don’t know any agency that could help.”

Limited repair options if police aren’t directly involved

The Basic Systems Repair Program, one of the city’s more popular home improvement initiatives, does not cover gun-related damages such as shattered windows and dinged-up doors.

It offers free repairs for income-eligible Philadelphia homeowners for a variety of structural deficiencies, but does not cover “replacement of doors or windows,” or brick or stucco work unless the property’s exterior is close to crumbling.

Affected homeowners could potentially be eligible for the city’s Restore, Repair, Renew low-interest loan program. The PRA issued $40 million in bonds to create and support the program, which launched in March of this year and uses local nonprofits to administer loans ranging from $2,500 to $25,000.

In its half-year of existence, 1,663 people have contacted the PRA’s nonprofit partners about the program, per city spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco. To date, 385 homeowners have met the program’s eligibility requirements — which include an income threshold and a minimum 580 credit score. Of those eligible property owners, about 30% have qualified so far. Twenty homeowners have already closed on loans, Cofrancisco said.

Deputy Mayor Lazer said the administration has not begun to consider whether it would launch a partnership with the trades to provide repairs for homeowners affected by bullet damage throughout the city. “That’s so premature,” he said, “I haven’t had the discussion about that.”

Before work on the 3700 block of North 15th Street can begin, District Council 21’s committee on pro bono community initiatives has to review and vote on the mayor’s letter.

For now, the damages are an unsightly reminder of a terrifying evening for the Foremans, and for homeowners around the city who have lived through everyday gun violence incidents.

“That’s what we see,” Foreman said. “We’re reminded of that every single day when we walk into our home.”

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Layla A. Jones

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...