The Politics of Preservation

By: JoVon Sotak , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Musings

Oftentimes those of us who write on this ol’ blog skirt the issue of politics now and again. It’s somehow unavoidable. Why? Well, here is a short list of the reasons that you can probably add to that is going to lead me to my point:

  1. Local governments set rules and regulations regarding historic districts. If your city or town has a historic district, you’re already well aware of the list of dos and don’ts when it comes to renovating a property within one of these districts. (Note: If you’re thinking of purchasing an older home in a city with a historical district, you should be aware of where that district begins and ends in the event that such information doesn’t turn up in a zoning or title report.)
  2. Local and/or county-level governments also levy property taxes. In some places, elected officials have given tax breaks to owners of historic properties.
  3. Many state governments in the U.S. collect income tax and those state politicians dictate if state tax rebates or incentives are offered for older homes.
  4. Legislation passed by the federal politicians created the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the state preservation offices. The people who work toward preservation efforts and designate homes and other buildings as an official historical place are paid by government. Similar legislation created the almost-finished Energy Efficiency Tax Rebate and other tax rebates and incentives for old houses.
  5. Some federal politicians work to secure federal dollars to help preservation efforts in the states they represent.

Michigan Theatre in Jackson, MI, is being restored and renovated by a local non-profit corporation that acquired the building in 1993. The group aims to make this historical theater a major attraction for the entire region.

It took a while for me to get to point 5, but I’d didn’t want to lose you if I busted out with “federal politicians” from the get-go because politicians aren’t very popular these days. I stumbled upon one who seems to be looking to 2011 with a few preservation projects on board. That guy is Congressman Mark Schauer of Michigan. I don’t know Mark. I’m from Nevada, so I definitely didn’t vote for Mark. I’ve only been to Michigan once when I was 16 and I have to say I was more impressed with the fireflies than with politicians or historic preservation efforts. In short, there’s no way this is a political endorsement.

Schauer recently published his priority projects for 2011 for the appropriations process for 2011. On his website, he described the process by which his team surveyed organizations throughout the state to get input. The result is a list that includes the following:

  • $100,000 for the City of Eaton Rapids Flood Damage Reduction which will help protect the city’s historic district from flooding.
  • $150,000 to restore and renovate Tibbits Opera House — one of the oldest operating opera houses in Michigan — back to its original 1882 design.
  • $294,293 to upgrade the electrical system of Jackson’s Michigan Theatre, which is on that National Register of Historic places due to its architectural significance.

Schauer’s list brought home a really important point for me that I’d like to share with you: Though we can often wistfully think that the endangered historical properties in our own states may be rescued by government funds, preservation efforts take planning and can’t always be last-minute game changers. Though I’m still in recovery from the campaign season (and television ads), I best figure out what my state’s representatives are considering priority projects for 2011 and if any of those projects include preservation.