Worsening federal, state and local government budget deficits continue to put pressure on funding for historic preservation. In fact, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), a GOP deputy whip and member of the Republican Study Committee's steering committee has introduced a bill in Congress that would cut $150 billion over five years from about 50 programs.
That includes eliminating two highly praised historic preservation matching grant programs - Save America's Treasures and Preserve America. Even President Barrack Obama now calls both programs "duplicative and underperforming."
In his Jan. 14 FedWatch column on Governing.com, Ryan Holeywell argued that both programs are a drop in the bucket in the federal budget. In Fiscal 2010, $25 million was appropriated for Save America's Treasures and only $4.6 million for Preserve America.
Save America's Treasures, established in 1998, is a National Park Service/National Trust for Historic Preservation matching grants program to preserve historically significant properties and the only federal preservation "bricks and mortar" grant. It has supported more than 1,000 projects, created an estimated 16,000 jobs and awarded some $300 million in public and private grants.
Funding, for example, has restored the Montgomery, Ala. bus on which Rosa Parks made her stand, the workshop in which Thomas Edison created his inventions and the cottage where President Abraham Lincoln retreated to during hot Washington summers. The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 permanently authorized $50 million annually for Save America's Treasures.
According to Holeywell, Preserve America was established in 2003 within the Department of the Interior to fund preservation efforts through heritage tourism, education and historic preservation planning. An Interior Department spokesman said more than $17 million in matching grants have been awarded to more than 225 projects since 2006.
John Thomas, fiscal and grants manager for the California Office of Historic Preservation, said its is difficult to find funding and that bricks and mortar grants have virtually dried up.
The COHP, in fact, offers this advice on its website to those seeking historic preservation grants:
"Despite a variety of funding sources from federal, state and private sources, historically and for the foreseeable future there are more historic preservation projects than funding available. Those seeking funding for historic preservation projects must be diligent and persistent in seeking out and competing for grant funds that do exist. In addition to state and federal programs, many local governments and non-profit organizations sponsor grant or loan programs for preservation of historical resources within their jurisdictions.
"Additionally, preservationists must be creative in exploring tax incentive and loan programs, especially those that provide money for projects compatible with historic preservation goals such as adaptive reuses creating affordable housing or for recreational purposes. For example, a historic building that is adapted for senior housing units may be eligible for funding from state or federal housing programs or a historic building restored for use as a community center may be eligible for funding from recreation grant programs."
Thomas said it's amazing how things have changed in California, a state where budgetary problems and deficits are well documented. "In 2002, voters passed Proposition 12 that provided $8 million for 54 historic preservation projects. We don't have money like that anymore, especially with our deficit," Thomas said.
The federal government provides 60 percent of the funding through the federal Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) to the COHP. Ten percent of that must be awarded to Certified Local Governments or CLGs. The CLG, which is a logical next step for any community with a National Register or local historic district, is a preservation partnership between local, state and national governments focused on promoting historic preservation at the grass roots level.
The program is jointly administered by the National Park Service (NPS) and state historic preservation offices in each state, with each local community working through a certification process to become recognized as a CLG. CLGs then become an active partner in federal historic preservation programs and the opportunities they provide.
Thomas said the COHP in July granted more than $200,000 to nine historic preservation projects throughout California. "However, that is money for studies, such as a survey of historical properties, or building up inventories of historical data. It is not for revitalizing buildings and structures."
Thomas, who has spent 20 years doing historical preservation, said he recently received a call from Alaska asking if he knew of available funding. "The person told me they had called every state and could find nothing. There are some private development projects passing through here, and they can benefit from federal tax credits. But that's only for business. Some states do give tax credits for private homes. I think a project currently has to have national historic significance before it can attract money. In some cases, the federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) can be applied to preservation."
Despite the less-than-robust economy, Thomas is optimistic.
"Funding goes up and down depending on the political climate. It had been steady for several years, and I have experienced cuts as deep as 20 percent. But somehow, funding has never gone totally away for projects that are important to local communities. Somehow they find a way, whether through public or private sources, to preserve buildings and structures for future generations."
Like motherhood and apple pie, it is difficult to be against historical preservation.
America now has more than 2,300 historic districts and more than 80,000 properties listed in the National Register representing nearly 1.5 million individual resources - buildings, sites, districts, structures and objects. Almost every county in the U.S. has at least one place listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Listing in the Register is the first step towards eligibility for federal preservation tax credits administered by the NPS, credits that have leveraged more than $45 billion in private investment and park service programs such as Save America's Treasures and Preserve America.
While the first historic district was established in Charleston, S.C. in 1931, most of the explosive growth and interest in historical preservation has resulted from the establishment of the non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) in 1949 and the passage of the NHPA, which established the independent federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) agency. ACHP assures that no federally funded projects have a significant negative impact on historic resources (Section 106).
In 1976 Congress established the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), which is not funded with tax dollars, but with income from fees charged for offshore oil leases on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Today, the HPF provides grants to states, tribes and local governments to use for activities like education, preparation of National Register nominations, administering the federal rehabilitation tax credit and development of comprehensive preservation plans.
The HPF can distribute up to $150 million annually, but has never been fully funded. It receives annual appropriations from Congress, and this federal money is matched by state dollars. The fund is administered in a partnership between NPS and the states through the state (SHPOs) and tribal (THPOs) historic preservation offices, as well as the CLGs.
States also have dedicated more than $2 billion since 1991 in federal highway funds to thousands of transportation-related historic preservation projects.
What if you have little or no experience with historical preservation in your community? As they say, you have to start somewhere.
Perhaps the best place is the National Trust for Historic Preservation website where you can find help with funding, properties for sale, conferences, case studies, legal resources, technical assistance, training, advocacy, endangered sites, issues, etc. Sustainability as it relates to historic preservation is a major focus of the Trust.
According to its website, "The Trust is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to saving historic places and revitalizing America's communities. It provides leadership, education, advocacy and resources to protect the irreplaceable places that tell America's story. Staff at the Washington, D.C., headquarters, six regional offices and 29 historic sites work with the Trust's 270,000 members and thousands of preservation groups in all 50 states."
For example, the Trust's National Trust Preservation Fund offers several types of financial assistance to nonprofit organizations, public agencies, for-profit companies, and individuals involved in preservation-related projects. Generally, financial assistance available to restore historic buildings and homes covers three categories:
• For those restoring a historic house or other structure for their primary residence.
• For nonprofit organizations and federal, state or local government agencies.
• For those restoring or preserving income-producing properties.
The Trust works very closely with the federal government and partners and its agencies at the state level, such as Preservation Pennsylvania.
Carol Hickey, a Lancaster, Pa., architect deeply involved with the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County, suggests first establishing a National Register or local historic district.
"The national district allows you to control within its borders the demolition of historic properties if public money is being used. It makes you eligible for grants and loans, mostly matching and for non-profits. It encourages private development that adheres to Department of Interior standards and provides tax credits. There is not a lot of paperwork.
"There is also the historic district which can be set up by a community group and has established borders. This allows the district to control exterior renovations and realize other advantages. Plus, national and local districts can then apply to their state SHPO to gain CLG status, which opens the door to even more support and funding from state and federal resources," said Hickey.
She agreed with Thomas that bricks and mortar funds are "pretty well tapped out," but that successful historical preservation requires a lot of creativity, persistence and ingenuity. "Small planning grants can help you get started. Funding doesn't have to be exclusive to preservation. For example, Pennsylvania has its Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program that can fund public/private partnerships. Oftentimes your state senators and representatives can be very helpful."
Hickey, whose company has worked on many historic preservation projects, said there is still a great deal of interest in it. "While work is picking up, it is still difficult to get money from the bank to do anything. I know several people who want to restore their homes, but they are reluctant to go ahead. Contractors in my area are also feeling the effects. For many, their workload is half of what it had been."
Mark Hartney, an Allentown, Pa., city planner and secretary of the Allentown Historic and Architectural Review Board, said, "Today there is certainly less funding available. Tax credits are only for for-profit corporations and individuals. Usually the project has to be in the multi-millions to take advantage of tax credits. There are a lot of strings, a lot of reviews. The site needs to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. That usually takes one to two years."
Historic preservation is a goal in Allentown, which has three historic districts and CLG status. Many projects are rehabilitation programs for low- and moderate-income housing, not only for rehabbing them to historic standards, but also for meeting other issues such as code compliance. A lot of funding is through CDBG grants.
Most Allentown preservation occurs through a program, such as a historic district. "Districts tend to stabilize property values and even increase them. Improvements are more the responsibility of the property owners. The district also governs projects within it, such as rehabilitating an old factory.
"CLG status is important to us. We have a Historic Architectural Review Board and have been able to get several grants that allow us to run the board, plan and offer property owners technical assistance. We are currently applying for a $15,000 grant to pay a historical preservation consultant," said Hartney.
He emphasized that historic preservation should be community-driven. "Establishing a historic district can be touchy. You need to have buy-in; you must educate the district residents about what historic preservation can mean to them. It is an uphill battle without that support. There are also more hoops to jump through in forming a historic district and benefits occur over a long period.
Hartney said it is up to the local community to determine what is important regarding historic preservation, which can always play a role, layered into some other strategy, such as code compliance.
"Younger people are looking for a walkable character in the cities. Local government needs to promote the sense of place and character. It needs to find the right balance.
"Today we all have to do more with less. The funding isn't here like it was."