There has always been a sneaking suspicion on the part of some that historic-preservation tax breaks were largely a tool for effete intellectuals who usually also were quite affluent. They would find cheap old houses and turn them into fancy new-old houses partly at taxpayer expense. One of the first programs that James G. Watt decimated when he became secretary of the Interior dealt with historic preservation.
But a recent report from J. Jackson Walter, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, should help dispel that notion. Historic preservation has been an effective vehicle for the creation of new housing for low- and moderate-income people, particularly in inner cities.
Since 1975 the Savannah Landmark Rehabilitation Project has created 300 housing units in the Victorian Historic District, or about 20% of the total housing supply in the district, Walter said. An additional 200 units are being added. Similar projects have risen from the virtual rubble of inner cities from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, Walter added. Not only are less fortunate Americans provided with adequate housing, but their residence helps give new life and vitality to those neglected urban areas.
Total investment in older buildings was more than $20 billion in 1983, the last year for which figures were available, Walter said. That may not be very impressive when compared with total U.S. housing spending. "But in the name of historic preservation, and quite often with the help of the federal historic rehabilitation tax credits, we are saving the key buildings that give a city shape and character--the ones that bring identity to our cities," Walter said.