Missed Preservation Advocacy Week this year? Catch up with this recap from Julianne Patterson, Development & Events Coordinator at the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and a member of PRN’s Communications Committee. As she writes, our work is far from done.
By Julianne Patterson
The official “week” of storming Capitol Hill to advocate for historic preservation-
related policies has ended for this year, but I think we all know that advocacy is a 365-days-a-year endeavor. Our priorities for Advocacy Week 2017 and moving forward are: (1) asking for adequate funding of the core programs of the Historic Preservation Fund; (2) asking for support of the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit; (3) and asking representatives to join the Historic Preservation Caucus. All remain relevant and urgent.
Historic Preservation Fund
Thanks to the NPS Centennial Act passed last December – which reauthorized the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) – we were able to get right to the appropriations request of $86M for FY18. We visited members of Congress on Capitol Hill the day before the president’s budget was released, so we ran into a lot of “…Let’s just see what things look like after tomorrow” responses. It was helpful to remind representatives that funding for the HPF comes from offshore oil leases, and that the request really isn’t that big in the grand scheme of things.
The $86M request includes $50M to State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs), $13M to Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs), $13M for Civil Rights Initiative Competitive Grants, $5M for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and $5M for new grants to fund GIS and data management systems to document historic resources.
The request for funding to support new data management systems is a noteworthy step toward improving surveying efficiency and information accessibility. This small request is something my group (advocating for the state of Washington) highlighted. Increasing digital resources would greatly improve the Section 106 planning and review process, ultimately lightening the load on already overly busy SHPOs. It’s an exciting opportunity: government agencies, private firms, and nonprofit organizations are developing new tools every day to advance the preservation and planning fields. (PRN has upcoming blog posts featuring a few of these digital innovations, so stay tuned!)
We discussed the administration’s infrastructure priorities and pointed out that dramatically increasing the number of public infrastructure projects without increasing the funding for SHPO staff would create a major burden within those offices – and potentially slow down critical repairs to roads, bridges, and more. HPF funding that will allow our SHPOs to proactively plan and prepare for this big wave of projects by utilizing digital resources to streamline and speed up the review process. This point hit home and resonated with every office we met with.
Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit
Advocating for the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit (also called the Historic Tax Credit, or HTC) was met with more “let’s just see how things go” comments. It was clear there is a lot of uncertainty around what tax reform will look like, if it happens at all. Preservation Action did a great job prepping everyone the day before our Hill meetings by outlining a strategy that acknowledges the HTC will likely go away in the first draft; early blueprints of tax reform show it eliminated. Thus, our focus was requesting support for the credit once the tax code is opened up for discussion, with emphasis on its economic development and community revitalization impacts.
We also requested that representatives support the HTC Improvement Act (S. 425, H.R 1158), which increases the credit to 30% for projects under $3.75M, thereby making the benefits more accessible to smaller communities where the economic and revitalization impacts are needed most. We made sure to mention projects in each district (or the potential projects that could happen if the Improvement Act becomes law).
In addition to using examples of successful completed projects to illustrate the impact of the HTC program, our Washington delegation brought two current projects from Seattle that are in limbo because their financing is dependent on combining the Low Income Housing Tax Credits with the HTC to pencil out. In a city with seemingly limitless development potential in the midst of a housing crisis, investors and syndication funds are reluctant to take a chance on a tax credit project without assurance that the payout will be there. This is the very real reality of the state of uncertainty surrounding the HTC program and tax reform in general.
Historic Preservation Caucus
Finally, we always ask our representatives to join the Historic Preservation Caucus to stay involved in relevant policy issues as they relate to preservation. I don’t know much about the day-to-day business of the HP Caucus, but I imagine it as a big fun party where everyone dresses up as their favorite president and aggressively fights to have the most National Monuments in their district. I know it’s only like that in my dreams, but the good news is that preservation has advocates on both sides of the aisle – sometimes it just takes a different approach to highlight the priorities each person and party aligns with.
Resources for Action Now
As you can see, much is happening, with more work to be done (always!). Advocacy truly is an everyday, all-year project.
Here are three things you can do to follow up with the priority issues from Preservation Advocacy Week:
- Call your members of Congress (MOCs) in support of the HPF FY18 appropriation.
- Ask your MOCs to cosponsor the HTC Improvement Act (again, that’s S. 425, H.R 1158)
- Request that your MOCs join the HP Caucus, if they haven’t already.