Save historic preservation tax credit

Earlier this month, two bills were introduced in the West Virginia House and Senate —SB 436 and HB 2916 — that propose to eliminate the historic preservation residential tax credit, which allows a 20 percent tax credit on qualifying expenditures for properties listed in National Register historic districts and individually listed in the National Register.

These will be considered first by the Senate Government Organization Committee and the House Finance Committee and the bills must be out of committees by Sunday in order to ensure three full days of readings, which means that if the bills do not leave their respective committees by then, they have no chance of being passed into law this session. However, I urge citizens of Jefferson County to contact their legislators and let them know that keeping the historic preservation tax credit in place is an important priority for several reasons.

The Residential Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit has assisted homeowners in Jefferson County and throughout West Virginia to repair, retain and improve quality housing for families of all income levels. It has provided the needed incentive to rehabilitate homes with roofs, windows, and siding and upgraded heating systems. Repealing the credit will have significant unfavorable consequences for West Virginia communities. Proper rehabilitation and retention of historic homes benefits our communities by maintaining our unique neighborhood character. The purpose of the credit is to encourage repair of older homes and to help individual homeowners afford this rehabilitation, while encouraging work that is appropriate to historic preservation standards.

The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia and the many supporters of historic preservation across our state are asking the West Virginia Legislature to carefully consider and retain the residential historic rehabilitation tax credit. In Jefferson County, the Historic Landmarks Commission also recognizes the importance of this legislation and is opposed to any attempts to make the tax credit unavailable to homeowners since it could impact about 800 historic properties within the county.

The state homeowner historic tax credit is one of the few benefits for private homeowners and a key incentive in promoting rehabilitation of historic properties and preserving the character of our nation’s residential districts and small towns.

Encouraging people to rehabilitate homes in our existing neighborhoods rather than moving to new developments in suburbs preserves public funds by reducing expenditures on new infrastructure. It also contributes to the economic development of our communities by encouraging proper rehabilitation using highly skilled labor and increased sales of building products.

West Virginia has been in the forefront of historic preservation activities for years. We were among the first to enact the residential tax credit for rehabilitation and we have now been joined by 31 states that offer credits ranging from 20 to 30 percent.

Since West Virginia has allowed this credit, it has leveraged several million dollars in construction value for restoration and preservation projects. Most of these projects are from middle class families, many of whom could not have afforded to do their rehabilitation without this financial incentive.

The tax credits to date have averaged less than about $200,000 per year, a very minor portion of West Virginia’s tax income, but a very major benefit to individual owners and local communities throughout the state which recognize the economic benefits of retaining the historic character of their properties.

The administrative burden of this credit is minor. The State Historic Preservation Office has one staff person who administers this program as a small portion of his duties. Since the purpose of the office is to encourage historic preservation, the work involved in this program is directly contributing to the mission of the agency.

In summary, for a very small monetary cost to the state, this tax credit provides significant benefits to Jefferson County homeowners and communities. I strongly urge those who care about preserving the rich heritage of our state to help ensure that this important credit is retained.

 

— Curt Mason is a member of the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission and the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia

 

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