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What are the most pressing priorities around equity in your community or field of work?

  • 1.  What are the most pressing priorities around equity in your community or field of work?

    Posted 10-20-2020 12:00

    Last week the National Trust released Preserving African American Places: Growing Preservation's Potential as a Path for Equity, a report that has been a long time coming. Many of you may have heard us present earlier iterations at PastForward in San Francisco and Denver, and we're pleased to be able to share with you the results of those conversations.

    For those of you who don't know me, I'm Di Gao, the senior director of research and development, and I was one of many people at the National Trust leading the charge on this report over the last year. I recently answered a series of questions from your community manager, Priya Chhaya, about the report.

    While you can learn more about the project and what's next in that story, we wanted to make space for dialogue and hear your ideas, responses, and reactions right away.

    There have been a wide range of conversations about preservation and social justice, which have accelerated over the past few months, with many more in our future. To build off this momentum, and kick off the conversation here, I'd like to start with this question:

    What are the most pressing priorities around equity in your community or field of work?


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    Di Gao
    Senior Director of Research and Development
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    New York NY
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  • 2.  RE: What are the most pressing priorities around equity in your community or field of work?

    Posted 10-22-2020 08:50
    Hi Di!

    In my opinion, one of the issues that i see as most pressing around the issue of equitable preservation is money. Historic homes cost a lot to maintain, and if we want homeowners to make preservation sensitive repairs (i.e. windows, roofing materials, etc) the cost is higher than the less sensitive option. This creates a gulf between those who can afford to maintain their homes in a preservation sensitive manner and those who cannot. When someone has to choose between paying for wood window restoration and paying their heating bill, lower order needs on Maslow's hierarchy come first.

    Our current financial incentives for preservation are insufficient for creating equitable preservation. In many states, there's no homeowner tax credit or other financial benefit for doing preservation work. Limiting the financial benefits to "income-producing properties" maintains a system of capitalism where those who generate economic activity are rewarded at a higher level than those who do the actual work of keeping society going. If we were to find a way to incentivize homeowners making preservation sensitive repairs to their property, I think we'd make a dramatic shift in our field. The historic properties would last longer, enhancing the ability to generate wealth for the owner or their descendants.

    Beyond homeowners, think about places of worship. So many of our neighborhoods are dotted with churches, synagogues, or other religious architecture. Here in Philadelphia, these large buildings are stunningly beautiful and contribute so much to our sense of place. But they are extremely expensive in upkeep, and operated as a non-profit or non income producing property they have little financial means to maintain their building. This results in the decay of the building over time, the eventual movement of the congregation due to the buildings condition, and the church building sitting vacant and a ripe target for demolition.

    I think there are many more issues in creating equitable preservation, but I think money is at the root of most of those.

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    Jennifer Robinson
    jrobinson@preservationalliance.com
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  • 3.  RE: What are the most pressing priorities around equity in your community or field of work?

    Posted 10-23-2020 10:32

    Up front costs are often more expensive for older homes, but long term costs can be considerably less. The City of Fort Collins put together a cost calculator that helps residents determine whether it makes more sense to replace older windows with ones warrantied for 20-years, or pay more up front to restore older windows that will last another 50-years before needing any more significant work to take them another 50 or 100 years. 

    https://www.fcgov.com/historicpreservation/costcalculator



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    Meg Dunn
    Fort Collins CO
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  • 4.  RE: What are the most pressing priorities around equity in your community or field of work?

    Posted 10-23-2020 18:39
    Meg, I intend no offense by saying this, but cost saving over the long term is a luxury not available to the poor. The tool you describe would be valuable for neighborhoods experiencing gentrification, but what about the situation Jennifer describes, which might be a retired individual or couple in a home that has deteriorated? In that situation, the calculation might be between the cost of window repair or replacement vs. rent, utilities, medication or food.

    What is needed is a source of public funds to fill the gap between the initial cost of replacement windows vs. window repair. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem like a realistic possibility in these times.

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    Living At Home LLC
    Glasgow KY
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  • 5.  RE: What are the most pressing priorities around equity in your community or field of work?

    Posted 30 days ago

    Thanks for your response, Living At Home.  I agree, having a cost calculator tool is more effective when paired with other programs. The City of Fort Collins also has a Zero Interest Loan program that was developed especially with this type of scenario in mind -- especially for those living on a fixed income. Home owners can get up to $7500 a year (that can be used on top of any State or Federal tax credits that are available for the project) interest free. They have to match that amount and the loan has to be paid back up on the sale of the property. (Which, for seniors who are hoping to age in place, can mean that the loan isn't paid back until the property has passed on to their heirs.) This zero interest loan can be used every year, so many property owners plan their projects accordingly, aiming to accomplish $15,000 worth of work a year. 

    Of course, even $7,500 can be too much for some people to spare. But if there's a scenario where they were going to spend $15,000 on new vinyl windows, they might be willing to instead spend $7,500 one year to have their older wooden windows refurbished and then the following year spend another $7,500 to have some more refurbished. 

    And, again, if a person can take advantage of 20-25% dollar-for-dollar income tax credits from the State at the same time, they'd be spending $3000 less than that a year. So for $2,500 you could get $15,000 worth of work, if I'm doing the math correctly. If the windows (doors, siding, etc.) needs to be done anyway, getting this much financial help can really make a difference between going with the "cheap" alternative vs. being willing to rehabilitate something that could last for decades. 



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    Meg Dunn
    Fort Collins CO
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  • 6.  RE: What are the most pressing priorities around equity in your community or field of work?

    Posted 29 days ago
    This sounds great, Meg - How do residents find out about it? Does anyone communicate this program and help people through the process?

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    Cindy Olnick
    Communications consultant for historic places and preservation
    Los Angeles, CA
    cindyolnick.com
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  • 7.  RE: What are the most pressing priorities around equity in your community or field of work?

    Posted 28 days ago
    Anyone that owns a historic property gets a postcard... I think every other year... that reminds them about available financial incentives. It doesn't come with a whole lot of information, but it includes the URL for the preservation department's website where there's a lot more info and contact information for staff. But the most effective way of getting the word out tends to be word-of-mouth.

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    Meg Dunn
    Fort Collins CO
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