Banner Day for Historic Preservation

February 6, 2012, was a big day for fans of skilled jobs, green building, and community revitalization through historic preservation. Yesterday, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland announced he would introduce (with Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine) new Senate legislation that would encourage historic rehabilitation in Main Street communities, promote energy-efficiency in rehabilitation projects, and make the credit more accessible to nonprofit organizations. This legislation was introduced in the House last summer, and achieving Senate introduction was the next big milestone for the National Trust and its allies.

The new legislation, the Creating American Prosperity through Preservation (CAPP) Act, would make an already powerful federal historic tax credit even more so. Over 32 years, the credit has created 2 million jobs; saved 37,000 historic warehouses, factories, and schools; and attracted $90 billion to local economies.

Mr. Cardin made his announcement at a press conference at historic Clifton Mansion, which now houses Civic Works, a nonprofit that helps young people prepare for the workforce. The mansion, located in a low-income section of northeast Baltimore, is a poster child for how historic preservation, green energy, and community development can intersect—with the federal historic tax credit being the catalyst. Civic Works’ Executive Director Dana Stein talked passionately about how the historic tax credits will make possible the mansion’s $7 million makeover, which will seek LEED Gold certification. Mr. Stein granted the project was perhaps hard for their architect to envision, considering the building’s dilapidated state (and current $17,000 monthly energy bill). 

More hard work lies ahead for the National Trust and its allies. Now that both bills have been introduced, our attention will turn toward getting members of Congress onboard as co-sponsors. Despite its track record of job creation and community revitalization, the impact of the federal historic tax credit is not widely understood. We will be working hard to educate lawmakers about the power of the federal historic tax credit and the importance of the CAPP legislation. And we’ll need your help. To join our effort, please take a minute to sign our pledge to help protect and enhance the historic tax credit.

Because, in the words of National Trust president Stephanie Meeks, the historic tax credit is simply too important to lose.

What Is the CAPP Act?

The CAPP Act, H.R. 2479, is a bill that proposes strategic adjustments to the federal historic tax credit that would enhance its already impressive track record of generating economic benefits. In brief, CAPP’s provisions would:

Bring jobs and economic development to “Main Street” towns and rural communities. For smaller sized deals, a 20 percent historic tax credit is often not enough of an incentive to justify the expenses involved in pursuing the credit. The associated lawyer, accountant, and preservation consultant fees take too big a bite out of the credit amount. Increasing the amount of the credit from 20 percent to 30 percent for “small deals” (projects under $5 million in qualifying rehabilitation expenditures) could easily fix this issue. It would also ensure that rural communities and “Main Street” districts—that typically don’t have large-scale historic rehab projects in their midst—could benefit from the federal historic tax credit’s job-creating and community revitalization effects.

Facilitate economic development in low-income areas. Current law discourages nonprofit organizations and government agencies from sponsoring the rehabilitation or leasing of historic properties. Yet these entities often undertake the most difficult projects in areas of greatest need. CAPP provisions would slightly change the law to facilitate use of the credit by nonprofits and governmental agencies to create affordable housing, community health centers, schools, and other projects of high community benefit.

Incentivize the use of "green" technology. CAPP provisions would increase the historic credit amount by two percentage points for historic rehabilitation projects that achieve 30 percent or greater savings in energy consumption—this on top of the already green act of reusing an existing building.