10 Steps to Preserve Your State's Preservation Programs

By: JoVon Sotak , Contributing Writer
In: In The News

I’ve been shelling out the bad news about state cuts to preservation programs and dwindling state tax credits for what seems like months on end. As of April 2010, 31 states gave tax breaks to old home owners. Even if that number stays the same in 2011, the amount of tax benefit in several states will have changed in one calendar year.

Missouri’s historic preservation tax credits are on the chopping block. The governor in Washington is proposing to eliminate the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and starve the Washington State Historical Society. Old house owners in Honolulu must have been very naughty this year because their tax breaks are being cut.

In light of all the budget cuts and rising energy costs, old house owners in some states would probably be ecstatic to receive a nice lump o’ coal this Christmas. Though I’m out of coal, I’m going to offer some tips borrowed from the National Trust for Historic Preservation on how you can preserve the preservation programs in your state when the budget leaves preservation efforts out in the cold. After all, ’tis the season for hope, miracles and more.

  1. Be proactive. Last-minute efforts at preservation once there is a crisis seldom work. If you want to make a case for preservation, you’ll have to do the legwork and gather the information you’ll need to make a case for why it matters instead of relying on, “But when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
    • Compile statistics on the buildings saved in your state
    • Compile statistics on the jobs that have been created by preservation projects and the economic growth and outcomes that resulted from it
    • Become familiar with your state preservation programs and historic properties nominated to the National Register
  2. Seek allies. You don’t have to do all the work yourself. In fact, start with local organizations that might be interested in preservation efforts and include stretch organizations that may have related goals.
  3. Gather support. There are other old house lovers and preservation and history buffs in our communities that don’t want to see local architecture lost. You’ll just have to find them and enlist them to help you educate others.
  4. Develop a clear message. A focused, effective message can be delivered through photographs of important historical buildings that show how preservation programs have made a difference locally. Rely on real success stories and invite others to spread the word about preservation through letters to the editor.
  5. Know your priorities. Sometimes, you’ll have to compromise. If you’ve done the legwork in step one, you’ll have a better idea of what efforts need the most urgent attention.
  6. Make friends with elected officials such as state legislators. When it comes to getting state funding, preservation involves politics. Seek out legislators who are sympathetic to preservation and invite them to meetings and events.
  7. Pay attention to the state budget. Your new friends in the legislature can keep you in the loop of what’s happening with your state’s budget. Many states have budget hearing agendas and minutes posted online.
  8. Stay in regular communication with important people.If you’re in regular communication with state offices and officials, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss budget issues and the impact on local preservation.
  9. Make friends with the media. If you or your organization wants to influence policy, you need to reach others quickly and effectively. You can do this by providing the media with fact sheets, position papers, sources, and contact information of important people to the media.
  10. Take your advocacy efforts online. Technology gives you a direct line to legislators and thousands of people who share your passion for old houses. Leverage your online communities to help find others to support local preservation efforts.