Historic preservation can spur affordable housing

Guest Column:
Nellie M. Gorbea & Stephen White
As lawmakers consider renewing Rhode Island’s Historic Preservation Tax Credit program, we thought it important to highlight how this tax credit in particular is good for Rhode Island; and how incorporating long-term affordable housing into the program is a strategic investment for Rhode Island’s economy. More

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OP-ED/LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Historic preservation can spur affordable housing

Guest Column:
Nellie M. Gorbea & Stephen White
Posted 5/6/13

As lawmakers consider renewing Rhode Island’s Historic Preservation Tax Credit program, we thought it important to highlight how this tax credit in particular is good for Rhode Island; and how incorporating long-term affordable housing into the program is a strategic investment for Rhode Island’s economy.

Historic-preservation tax-incentive programs can be found in many states across the country, and for good reason. Investment in historic preservation is smart development and a win-win for communities. Preserving historic properties revitalizes neighborhoods while using existing infrastructure, preserving open land and farmland. Further, historic preservation bolsters local construction, tourism, entertainment, housing and environmental-management sectors.

Given our region’s built environment, it’s no surprise then to find that other New England states are maximizing their historic-preservation tax credits to build strong, diversified economies with a wide range of housing options for their workforces. In fact, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine are actively growing their long-term, affordable-housing stock by offering additional incentives for preservation projects that incorporate housing for their low- and moderate-income workers.

This strategy is leaving a lasting imprint on their economies. For example, in Massachusetts, a study commissioned by Preservation Massachusetts revealed that $74 million in completed tax-credit projects had leveraged close to $1 billion in private investment and created over 12,000 jobs since 2004, sparking investment in over 70 cities and towns. It’s estimated that close to 85 percent of the state’s historic-preservation tax credit projects incorporated long-term affordable homes.

Rhode Island’s historic-building stock makes historic preservation an important building tool for our state. Rhode Island has about 18,500 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places and an additional 30,000 properties that have been surveyed and determined to be potentially historic.

But Rhode Island is not currently taking full advantage of its historic-building stock. The historic-preservation tax-credit program here was suspended to new applicants in 2008 due to concerns about the cost of the program to the state, and fiscal pressures on the state budget. This is a missed opportunity for Rhode Island. Our state is now one of two in New England without a state historic-preservation tax credit. The other is New Hampshire, which does not tax income, so state historic preservation tax credits are not applicable there.

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