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