Gentrification and Historic Preservation, pt 2a: This Old House vs Old House Journal

Gentrification and Historic Preservation: This Old House vs Old House Journal
If you’ve ever subscribed to the two magazines you might notice a difference in the two. They do have a similarity in that they have a certain appreciation for older homes, classic architecture but where they differ is in that This Old House (TOH) goes more for appearance, whereas Old House Journal (OHJ) goes for authenticity. Personally, I’m a TOH kinda gal, I like old houses and such but there is no need to turn my home into a cultural artifact. TOH, the magazine and the television show, is open to new materials, materials that give the classic look of older material like wood or slate or what have you but not the maintenance or installation problems of classic materials. OHJ, promotes keeping and maintaining original objects (windows and cornices, chimneys, etc) almost demanding a museum quality of maintenance down to the mortar between the bricks. Also TOH is more forgiving allowing builders, designers and homeowners to work with the original design or theme of the home, sort of like taking a jazz standard and adding a hip hop dance beat(I’m thinking an updated Dinah Washington Is you is or is you ain’t my baby) in the back. OHJ is straight jazz, original recording, no mixing, or redubbing.
Okay now what do these magazines have to do with gentrification and historic preservation? Well working on my earlier post about the demands of historic preservation I wanted to illustrate two levels of appreciation for older homes, one that favored and demanded by the restrictions placed by historic districts and the other that comes from a general level of appreciation that also balances the needs of day to day living and personal budgets. Can you see my bias in that sentence? The restrictive rules and regulations just make living in an historic district burdensome for those with a general level of appreciation and limited funds, pushing those folks out in favor of people with the funding and desire for authenticity.
The case is worse for low/fixed income residents who lack the money for the authentic restoration demanded, making historic preservation an elitist excerise. A Sohmer and Lang (see links below) point out, preservation “still reflects a middle class ethos that obsesses over authenticity,” an authenticity that is so focused on the material minuae that it runs ramshod over the social structures and diversity that may have made place so valuable in the first place. Truxton Circle was in the late 19th and early 20th century had a mix of professionals, government civil servants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, servants and laborers and the housing reflected that diversity of social and income levels, a diversity that exists in early 21st century Truxton would be destroyed by preservation regulations.
In this I wonder what kind of history is being preserved? Surely not any social history as historic preservation is clearly at odds with affordable homeownership. History is complex. Real history is not the disneyfied version that is usually prepackaged for tourist groups for a manufactured experience. It’s got oppression, injustice, bigotry, guilt, ugliness, inhumane poverty and many of the same problems of human vice that currently exists today in 2005. It ain’t all beautiful. But it’s the pretty shiny bits that get pulled out or a redeeming ending is slapped on so that it can be marketed to the general public turning history into a lie of omission, a skewed version. I’m sure in my old age I’ll see theme parks where kids can have their picture taken with a Crip, Blood, or MS-13 gang member, made toothless like our current view of pirates and 1940s gangsters. Is that the kind of history that is being preserved in historic districts, the clean up, super edited, the materially authenic but spirtually empty kind? The Monticello without the slaves?
Lack of room for economic diversity, and a narrow museum biased interpretation of history are just a few reasons why I hold some hostility towards some aspects of historic preservation in residental settings. Another reason? It just pisses off my inner Libertarian. I can tolerate some government regulations and restrictions but I’m not looking to add more top down restrictions to my life. I moved to this house because I wanted to avoid condos and co-ops because of their boards, and planned communities (well they are too far out but..) for their HOA restrictions, and any other body that squashes individuality. I did look at one house that I believed was in an historic district but it’s being in an historic district was one of serval reasons I didn’t want to buy it. The house in Truxton appealed to me because it was an affordable older home but with no restrictive historic district rules. I got a TOH kinda love for older homes, not a OHJ kind of love. I take issue with having the kind of windows, fencing, security bars, doors, tree box, light fixtures, steps, what I can put on those steps and roofing materials dictated to me on a basis other than standard building codes and being denied suitable building materials because they don’t fit museum-centric standards.
Okay this is getting long so I’ll do part 2, section b, later and go on about maintenance and question aspects of the benifits of taking on the historic district burden.

Beyond This Old House: Historic Preservation in Comunity Development by Rebecca Sohmer and Robert E. Lang

Models for Neighborhood Revitalization in Historic Districts by, Michael Sacks,Trinity College, Hartford, CT

Gentrification and Historic Preservation pt 2b: This Old House (TOH) vs Old House Journal (OHJ) pt 2b

Oh where was I? Oh, I had my inner Libertarian all out. Well before I stuff her back into the basement there are a few other issues relating to property rights and restrictions on personal freedoms of expression.
There are rules the city imposes on all property owners, such as zoning restrictions, building codes, restrictions on farm or other animals, and such that most homebuyers know about before they purchase. If they have issue with those rules and regulations then they need to seek housing elsewhere. If they, like myself, bought in an area, where certain onerous restrictions do not apply to property, and how I currently use that property, then it is alarming when one suggests imposing rules and restrictions that I (and possibly others) took such pains to avoid. Being able to put my stamp on my property and express myself through home repair, by what exterior doors, windows, paint colors, additions, etc I put on the house, is a property right I currently enjoy. I bristle at the thought that someone wants to take it away, especially without just compensation. I don’t get any free money by simply being in an historic district. Oh, and before you mention tax credits read the New York Time’s Tax Breaks on Historic Houses Face Restrictions by Josh Barbanel (December 26, 2004) I’ll talk about that Friday.

A subject I have been touching and dancing around has been maintenance, one of the biggest problems with living in an historic district. Usually maintenance issues are poo-pooed by those with OHJ values towards people with TOH or Better Homes & Gardens/ Metropolitan Home values. And the most touchy topic within maintenance is the issue of windows and window replacement. First off, I know that when an area becomes an historic district there are no requirements to retroactively modify buildings in an historic district, nor is there anything to force property owners to maintain properties or make improvements, other than the general city ordinances for all properties in the city. That’s not my problem. My problem is when the vinyl windows that a homeowner in a newly designated historic district has, needs replacing because the window broke or as part of general upkeep. That homeowner typically cannot replace his vinyl window with another vinyl window. His options are limited to wood windows or other historic windows, typically not the more easy to care for, cheaper, energy efficient vinyl options. You cannot run to Home Depot or Lowes to pick up a replacement if some kid/ robber breaks your window if you live in a restrictive historic district. It is a similar story with doors. But you’re more likely to break your window (or have it broken for you) than your door. Then there are gutters, repointing brick, and such. Once you are no longer able to use materials that are easily available or cheaper because of the retailer’s volume discount, your home maintenance costs go up. Oh and then there is the extra red tape. I believe, and this is not something I’ve done any amount of research on (my research for this is also write the paper the day before it’s due quality) but as far as I know, paint and paint colors, luckily are not an maintenance issue in DC historic districts. So that’s not an issue, ‘cause if it were I’d have a whole ‘nother paragraph railing against that and trying to find which of the limited 20 historically correct paint colors I could work with. And if I read it correctly, (once again proof of my slap dash research) the view of the house from the alley can be subject to these restrictions as well.

Okay, tomorrow big wrap up, of Gentrification and Historic Preservation pt 3: When is it right.

The Philadelphia Historic District Debacle (a libertarian view of HD)
Libertarian vs. Boston’s “historic” bureaucrats (window replacement fight)
Hysteric Preservation?

Capitol Hill Historic District publications – Doors
Replacement Windows

Why I vetoed the historic district ordinance by William Welch (Pennsylvania )

Gentrification and Historic Preservation, pt 1

I have sort of written about history and affordable housing, but the topic of historic preservation and our little corner of Shaw has been popping up. In that I have been trying to examine why I have a certain outlook towards historic preservation, historic districts and history in general. Oh, and then seeing how it applies to gentrification.
Let’s start with history. I like history. Ok, if you know my background you know that’s an understatement. Let’s just say history, the study of, its preservation, interpretation, and related industries, have been very, very good to me. So I think I have a fair background in it to talk about it and know when I’m above my head. Gentrification, I have no background in except my own narrow day to day experience here in Shaw, in the NW section of Washington, DC. I am no expert in urban renewal/gentrification, but I have opinions galore. When it comes to gentrification, I can definitely say I am an amateur.
The DC Preservation League and the DC Planning’s Historic Preservation Office are both useful in getting information about historic districts and preservation as it relates to DC. Now what the DC Preservation League has to say about gentrification is that “changes in the residential make up of a community are part of the constant evolution of a city. They are caused by a complex set of forces–including new development, ease of transportation, and changing urban lifestyles–not specifically by historic district designation.” In other words becoming an historic district does not bring gentrification. In some ways they are right, as Anacostia has an historic district and it isn’t experiencing gentrification pains. LeDroit Park, to my north, is currently an historic district, and the gentrification it is experiencing doesn’t seem to bear any relation to it’s status. Apparently in the early 1970s LeDroit Park became an historic district (see Architectural Style Unique in 2 Areas; Houses In 2 Areas Are Unique By Megan Rosenfeld Washington Post Staff Writer. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973). Washington, D.C.: Nov 29, 1973. p. B1), but that didn’t save the neighborhood from crackheads, abandonment, and poor maintenance in the 80s and 90s.
Historic preservation can be a tool in the gentrification toolbox. It can result in gentrification and speed up the process by imposing “burdens on low-and-fixed income residents, such as requiring certain types of windows, sidings or paint.” By adding higher maintenance costs, along with higher property taxes in gentrifing neighborhoods there is greater financial pressure for low, fixed, and moderate income families to leave destroying the economic and age diversity in a neighborhood. Also adding to the costs of regular maintenance is the requirement to seek specialized skills and products not available in the neighborhood, bypassing the neighborhood handymen.
However, there is a possible silver lining for income sensitive people if, and that is a big “if”, the community and non-profits fight for federal and local grants, loans, and other assistance to ease some of the financial pressures that historical preservation brings. Developers can mix Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) with federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits (HRTC) to mitigate the costs of building or rehabilitating properties in an historic district. Results of using both tax credits is the creation of mixed use and mixed income properties that help maintain the diversity that attracted many middle class and upper class residents to the Shaw area in the first place. As these tax credits are more aimed at “income producing” properties, the community and non-profits will have to push for local and federal grants, low to no interest loans, freezes on property taxes, as well as technical assistance and guidance regarding maintenance and upgrades for regular homeowners.
There are other aspects of this I’d like to work out and so this is part of a three part series (unless I change my mind and that could always happen or get bored).
ThursdayGentrification and Historic Preservation, pt 2: This Old House vs Old House Journal (what history is, isn’t, maintenance, restrictions and libertarianism)
FridayGentrification and Historic Preservation, pt 3: When it is right (clear vision, community support, flexibility, and diversity)

Historic Preservation and Affordable Housing: Leveraging Old Resources for New Opportunities By David Listokin and Barbara Listokin

Combining Historic Preservation and Income Class Integration: A Case Study of the Butchers Hill Neighborhood of Baltimore By James R. Cohen (University of Maryland)

Latinos in Historic Districts:Whose History? Whose Neighborhood?

Lavaca case study,Community Partners BY The National Trust for Historic Preservation