After more than five years of consistent advocacy, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, together with our partners at the National Trust Community Investment Corporation and the Historic Tax Credit Coalition, is pleased to report that the 20 percent historic tax credit (HTC) has survived the most significant rewrite of the tax code in more than 30 years. Congress has confirmed once again that incentivizing the rehabilitation of our historic buildings makes good economic sense.
This hard-won legislative achievement is particularly gratifying because the HTC was repeatedly targeted for elimination. The first major threat occurred when a tax reform proposal introduced by former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., in February 2014 suggested repealing all rehabilitation tax incentives. The HTC was also among the tax credit programs targeted for elimination in June 2016, when House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., released the Republican “Blueprint” for tax reform. These threats proved substantial when tax legislation started moving through Congress. In the House of Representatives, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (H.R. 1), introduced on November 2, proposed repealing both the 20 and 10 percent rehabilitation tax credits. This challenge was compounded by the initial version of the Senate tax reform bill—considered by the Finance Committee the week of November 13—which proposed reducing the 20 percent HTC by half and eliminating the 10 percent older building credit entirely.
In the end, the preservation community’s multiyear advocacy effort made all the difference. Together with longtime HTC supporters Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.—who sponsored the Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act—and in coordination with the leadership of Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, co-chair of the Historic Preservation Caucus, preservationists, business leaders, and many other stakeholders made it clear to Congress that the HTC is a vital revitalization tool that needed to be retained.
This strong showing of support resulted in an amendment to restore the HTC to 20 percent. The amendment—offered by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and cosponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; and Tim Scott, R-S.C.—was accepted at a critical moment in the Senate Finance Committee's markup of the tax bill during the week of November 13. To file the amendment, however, Sen. Cassidy needed to identify a way to offset the cost of the incentive. The solution was to take the HTC in phases over five years instead of in its entirety the year a rehabilitated building is completed. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that phasing the HTC in this way reduces the cost of the program by approximately $2 billion over 10 years.
While this change to the HTC is expected to result in a slight reduction in its value, adoption of the Cassidy amendment represents a remarkable achievement by the preservation community. Of the more than 300 amendments offered, the Finance Committee ultimately approved only about a dozen. The significant outpouring of support for the HTC is an affirmation of the positive economic return associated with rehabilitating our nation’s historic properties.
In addition to support for the HTC in the Senate, House Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee—including Reps. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio; Tom Reed, R-N.Y.; Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan.; Kristi Noem, R-S.D.; Pat Meehan, R-Penn.; David Reichert, R-Wa.; Jim Renacci, R-Ohio; and Jason Smith, R-Mo.—made their support known for the HTC in the Republican-crafted tax proposal. Off-committee Republican supporters included Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Rod Blum, R-Iowa, who led efforts to rally colleagues in standing up for the HTC. Later in the legislative process, Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., organized a letter that urged House and Senate tax bill conferees to retain the strongest possible HTC provisions in the final bill. Their efforts made the strong Republican support for the credit clear through the legislative process.
Strong political support for the HTC was catalyzed by the National Trust’s most significant advocacy campaign in decades. Nearly 13,000 people took action, sending more than 40,000 letters to Congress—the most responses ever to an advocacy action on the Trust’s website. The campaign reached more than 3.5 million people through social media, and the video featuring archival footage of President Ronald Reagan championing the HTC has been viewed more than 475,000 times across multiple platforms. The HTC campaign also generated 228 media stories and nearly 480 million media impressions during the last three months.
Preservationists should take stock of this legislative achievement and feel inspired to keep growing political support for historic preservation and the HTC in Washington as well as in our home states. Thank you to the many partners, colleagues, and friends who advocated tirelessly for the HTC.
Shaw Sprague is the senior director for Government Relations and Policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.