Broke in Philly

Philadelphians seek help with bullet damage to cars as shootings continue

Neither the city or state offers assistance, and repairs can be costly.

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

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Owning a car in Philly has always had its fair share of frustrations. New tires necessitated by the city’s notorious potholes can run $200 each. In Pa., the average cost for general maintenance repairs like oil changes and “check engine” alerts is over $300 a year, per CarMD.

On top of that, Philadelphia’s tragic gun violence epidemic can present another budget disruption, one that’s impossible to plan for:

Damage caused by bullets.

From shattered windows that greet people as they make their way to work to holes discovered in bumpers as they’re heading home, car owners across the city are being hit with a new expense.

“My partner actually didn’t notice [right away] because he was just in a really big hurry,” said Christina Roth, who lives in Port Richmond near Lehigh Avenue, describing her recent experience with the surprise repair. “She called me from running errands and was like, ‘We have a bullet hole in the car.’ It definitely happened on our street overnight.”

In a city where more than a quarter of residents live below the federal poverty rate and many more live paycheck to paycheck, this can cause major financial strain.

That was the problem facing a resident who submitted a question to Resolve Philly’s Broke in Philly reporting collaborative. They said their car was damaged in last month’s shooting outside a West Philadelphia high school football game.

“My insurance doesn’t cover the cost and I can’t afford to get my car repaired which I need to get to work. What help can I get?” the person asked. “I can’t drive it with my rear window shot out.”

While the City of Philadelphia has a grant program that helps organizations providing victims assistance get additional dollars, the city doesn’t itself provide assistance, said city spokesperson Kevin Lessard.

Assistance is available at the state level, but it’s not meant to cover third-party property damage, said Stacie Brendlinger, manager for Victims Assistance with the Pa. Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

“We are not able to consider lost stolen or damaged property,” Brendlinger said. “[A car] would be property. So, we would not be able to consider a car that has, you know, the window shot out or a bullet hole or anything like that.”

In fact, the lone property damage victims can usually get compensation for is crime scene cleanup, said Melany Nelson, executive director for Northwest Victims Services, a nonprofit based in Germantown.

If you have a comprehensive auto insurance policy, anything that happens to your car while parked on the street is covered, said Robert Passmore, the Vice President for Auto and Claims Policy for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association. “Comprehensive coverage is a good way to protect yourself from something like that, something unforeseen,” he said.

But it’s a more costly insurance plan.

“If you just have liability,” Passmore explained, “that only covers damage you cause to other people — injuries or damage to vehicles or property.”

The average cost for “just” liability auto insurance in the U.S. is $1,217 annually, according to the website Value Penguin, and a rear window on a car can cost as much as $400, not including labor costs.

Over the last two years, shootings in Philadelphia have increased to levels that hadn’t been seen in more than 35 years, according to police statistics. As of mid-October, there were already more than 3,120 shooting incidents recorded in 2021.

Over the past decade, shootings have been concentrated in certain areas, a recent Inquirer report found. But they occur all over the city, as can be viewed on the map published by the City Controller’s office.

Roth, the Port Richmond resident, believes her insurance will likely pay for the cost of repairs to her car. But the experience left her more than a little dismayed.

“I have two small children and [my family] is not involved in any kind of violence in any way,” Roth said. “There are condos down the street from where I live selling for $400,000 and they are building more of them right now. It’s just… it’s insane.”

Find more resources for people affected by gun violence here.

Want some more? Explore other Broke in Philly stories.

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