Creating Local Preservation Incentives | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Creating Local Preservation Incentives

Chapter 10: Preservation Community Relationships, Page 5 of 5

Creating Local Preservation Incentives | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

An effective way to encourage preservation of local historic buildings is to offer incentives for preservation efforts. A variety of incentives can be developed at the local level, including low-interest loans, tax abatements, and revolving funds. Programs can target specific areas, particular rehabilitation projects such as facade improvements, or be designed to address the specific needs of the community. A few possible local preservation incentives are discussed below.

Low-Interest Loans
City-sponsored low-interest rehabilitation loans or grants have been effective programs in many cities across the country. These programs offer low-interest loans to property owners for the repair and rehabilitation of historic buildings. The programs typically target low- to moderate-income areas and can fund:

  • Critical building maintenance
  • Structural stabilization work
  • Repair and rehabilitation of historic exterior features
  • Interior stabilization, plumbing, and electrical work
Projects should meet historic preservation guidelines, and it is a good idea for a rehabilitation specialist to monitor the work. This person can be a city employee, commission staff, or a professional associated with a local preservation group.
Facade Improvement Programs
These programs target historic downtown commercial areas and provide incentives to encourage private investment in downtowns. Grants and/or low-cost financing help owners renovate or restore building facades. Potential projects funded through this type of program include exterior painting, restoration of original storefronts, exterior repairs, and design assistance.
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) Program
The CDBG program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides annual grants to qualified cities, urban counties, and states to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment. The CDBG program can help assist residents in maintaining and upgrading historic homes. Low-interest or forgivable loans are often arranged through a city's community development office to low- and moderate-income families for home rehabilitation, repair, and improvements. Usually the property must be owner-occupied, adequately insured, and current on its tax paymants. Forgivable loans do not have to be repaid unless the owner sells or moves from the home within a specified period of time, typically five years. If the home is sold, the loan payback is based on the amount of time that has passed.
Revolving Funds
Establishing a revolving fund can be beneficial to help preserve a community's historic resources. Money from the fund can be used to accomplish a specific task or activity with the condition that the money used will be repaid to the fund for reinvestment in subsequent activities. Loans can be made to owners of historic buildings at below-market interest rates to complete specific preservation work.
Tax Abatements
While some other states use tax abatements to promote revitalization, Wisconsin's constitution prohibits such use of the tax code. Tax abatements provide an exemption from taxes on the improvements to the property. Homeowners who live in a specified area can be eligible to receive a property tax exemption up to 100 percent for a set period of time on any improvements made to property that have increased in value a given percentage. This has been an effective program in other states and should be considered in Wisconsin if an overhaul of the state's constitution occurs.
Urban Homesteading
Urban homesteading programs have become increasingly popular in cities throughout the nation as an effective approach to addressing deteriorated housing problems. In this program, a city buys and renovates vacant and abandoned houses for resale to low- or moderate-income households. Homesteaders must meet certain income requirements and are offered a low-interest loan. They must live in and maintain the dwelling for a minimum period of time.
Urban homesteading programs can help to rejuvenate neighborhoods that are in decline by improving one parcel at a time. This type of incremental revitalization typically has a longer-lasting impact on areas than more traditional large-scale projects. Urban homesteading is cost-effective because it utilizes existing resources. It can also have a positive ripple effect by enhancing neighborhoods and encouraging additional housing rehabilitation. This type of program helps to build community pride and identity by maintaining the historic character of a neighborhood and strengthening residents' commitment to the area. Such programs have proven to be effective tools in revitalizing neighborhoods in cities across the country. Some cities target specific areas, while other programs are citywide.
In each of the following locations, the program has been tailored to meet the individual needs of the city and its residents:

  • In Davenport, Iowa, homesteaders are selected on a point system based on specified criteria. Loans are made for up to a 30-year period at an interest rate of 3%.
  • In Syracuse, New York, homesteaders also get credit counseling and other financial education.
  • In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the homesteaders rehabilitate the dwellings.
  • In Lakeland, Florida, the city concentrates on vacant lots where homesteaders construct single-family dwellings.
Encouraging appropriate weatherization of older dwellings is also an important component of housing rehabilitation and should be considered when establishing incentive programs. Energy costs are a big concern of all homeowners, and energy efficiency is especially important in maintaining historic houses. When developing incentive programs for historic preservation, the municipality should consider establishing a low-interest or grant program for appropriate weatherization of historic homes. Owners of historic buildings should take measures that achieve reasonable energy savings, at reasonable costs, with the least intrusion or impact on the character of the building. Care should be taken to preserve and maintain historic building materials and character defining elements such as windows and doors.

Add Insulation
  • Inadequate insulation and air leakage are leading causes of energy waste in most homes, and installing proper insulation is one key method of fighting high energy costs.
  • It is possible to add insulation to almost any house, and often it is a feasible do-it-yourself job.
  • Attic insulation is particularly effective. Heat rising through the attic and roof is a major source of heat loss, and reducing this heat loss should be one of the highest priorities. Adding insulation in accessible attic spaces is very effective in saving energy and is generally accomplished at a reasonable cost.
Weatherstrip Doors and Windows
  • Another cause of substantial heat loss is the infiltration of cold outside air through loose windows, doors, and cracks in the exterior of the building. A cost-effective method of addressing this problem is to add weatherstripping to doors and windows, and caulk open cracks and joints, which will substantially reduce air infiltration.
  • It is important not to reduce infiltration to the point where the building is completely sealed and moisture migration is prevented. Without some infiltration, condensation problems could occur throughout the building.
  • Owners of historic buildings should avoid caulking and weatherstripping materials that, when applied, introduce inappropriate colors or otherwise visually impair the architectural character of the building.
Add Storm Windows
  • Windows are also a prime source of heat and energy loss. Windows are also one of the most character defining features of historic homes. Too often, home owners replace original historic windows with modern double paned designs in an attempt to make the house more energy efficient. An effective alternative is the installation of exterior storm windows. Adding new metal framed storm windows to the exterior will result in a window unit that outperforms a double paned window in thermal efficiency. Triple-track metal storm windows are readily available in numerous sizes at a reasonable cost, and can be painted to match the color of the historic window frame.
  • Interior storm windows of either metal frames or of plastic sheets are not recommended because of the potential for damage to the historic window.