Reinvestment to Community Core

We have reached the halfway mark, more or less, of the 2017-18 Legislative Session and the news for preservation is positive.  As they say of the fat lady needs to sing but one can only hope that she is warming up.  Two very critical items need to pass: fully funding the Community Investment Act (CIA) funds for the next year and an increase to the cap for the State’s Historic Tax Credit cap.

During the past few years the Legislature has approved a “sweep” of funds from the CIA coffers which has been a problem for funding preservation activities throughout the State.  These monies fund affordable housing, open space, dairy and historic preservation.  For us CIA provides grants to fill gaps in renovation to historic buildings such as the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, funds preservation of churches and municipal buildings like City Hall in Waterbury. These funds also allow minimum financial support to organizations such as HPA.  All critical funds which are otherwise difficult to assemble. A blog posted in January laid out the benefits brought about through CIA funding and how very important it is in Hartford.  Therefore, it is good news that the funds will largely remain intact.  Fingers crossed and please don’t forget to contact your elected officials letting know that you support them and their decision regarding historic preservation.

The bill to which we are paying close attention is SB 819 which proposes to raise the State Historic Tax Credit cap to $ 60 million.  This would double the credits available for preservation projects around the State.  We in Hartford have basically realized a downtown renaissance because these commercial tax credits have supported projects which have brought life into buildings long vacant and abandoned.   Signature residential projects such as 777 Main Street and the Capewell Lofts, representing a reuse of former commercial buildings, would not have been financially feasible without the contribution of equity represented by the historic credits.

As my colleague, Daniel MacKay, executive director of the CT Trust, testified before the Commerce Committee:

“What we want to underscore, however, is that this program is currently playing a significant role in underwriting Connecticut’s economic recovery. This state tax credit program represents “last dollars in” to a project. Clean-up, investment, redevelopment, and occupancy, with job creation all along the way, occurs before the state credits are issued. We must sustain this program’s growth and availability to assure that the long-term planning and investment in historic property redevelopment. We are asking the General Assembly to send the signal that one of the state’s best performing, most geographically diverse economic development tools will remain readily available, without interruption or constraint, to attract continued investment back to our communities, with consequent benefits for both local and state tax revenues and general economic activity Beyond the numbers, at the core of my testimony is a call for the General Assembly to act in support of program sustainability and stability. Re-development is often a tricky business. There are risks and there are costs. Investment in historic properties, even more so. The State Historic Tax Credit program fills a critical gap that usually exists when financing historic property redevelopment.”

We are cautiously optimistic that the Legislature views greater access to historic tax credits as an engine to promote community economic development.  The bill was passed out of the Commerce Committee and sent to The Finance Committee for study. Of course the fat lady remains in the wings but we surely hope that she will be allowed to sing her heart out.

 

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What’s HPA All About? A Reflection from the Intern

chelsey-crabbeOne of our favorite “jobs” here at HPA is working with interns and student volunteers. Chelsey Crabbe (Trinity College ’17) joined us this semester and leaves us this week with this article. 

Historic preservation is a cause that I feel passionately about and I never thought that I would find an internship while at school that would fulfill these interests of mine. As a History major at Trinity College, I felt like the opportunity to work at the Hartford Preservation Alliance (HPA) would allow me to both satisfy my interests as a “historio-phile” as well as integrate the city of Hartford, a city that has been my home for four years. I, humbly, accepted the internship position at HPA and, thus, began my semester-long experience at the organization.

How fitting that HPA’s office is in the re-purposed (and listed on the National Register of Historic Places) Underwood Computing Machine Factory Building. During my first weeks at the office, I started to become hyperaware of all the quirks of this historic building, an environment that acted as the perfect backdrop for a budding historic preservationist. For instance, one of the most vivid memories I will have of my time at HPA involves continually rolling backward in my chair due to the office’s original flooring that had become slanted over the decades. While a majority of the time, I found this to be quite annoying, a small part of me understood that this tiny intricacy gave the old factory at 56 Arbor Street a certain element of character. Characteristics like this are often lost because of demolition or abandonment and replaced with homogeneous architecture reminiscent of a time that occurred only seconds in the past rather than centuries. And to get back to my point, my awareness of these small details can now be attributed to my time working at HPA.

187-189 Sigourney an endangered property that Chelsey title searched.

187-189 Sigourney an endangered property that Chelsey title searched.

Although I never met the many supporters of the alliance or many of the board members, I had the pleasure of working alongside HPA Assistant Director, Mary Falvey, and Executive Director, Frank Hagaman. If anything, my experience in the preservation field was only enhanced by the support, expertise, humor, and knowledge of these two not-so-silent soldiers. Gaining recognition of and finding funding for historic preservation is trying work and requires a certain amount of engagement and commitment that is difficult to recruit. Both Mary and Frank, through their tenacious work ethic, taught me to speak up within a professional environment and go about obstacles and realities with a sense of humor. My experience at HPA was not only rewarding because of the work that I was doing, but because these individuals were so accommodating and personable.

Borch-Stevens Bakery part of the Windsor Street Factory Building Survey that Chelsey created.

Borch-Stevens Bakery part of the Windsor Street Factory Building Survey that Chelsey created.

Speaking of the work…I found myself switching between projects as circumstances changed allowing me to practice the skill of adapting within a working environment, a skill that will probably be of use to me in the coming years. Each project was different in its content and context, but required a similar set of skills which I found the most enriching. From conducting archival research to brainstorming for a social media campaign, I utilized several important skills sets that are relevant in any workplace. Specifically, I spent a majority of my time working with blighted properties in the Hartford area ranging from old homes to abandoned mill factories. Disturbing fact: the fate of these properties will most likely involve barrels of concrete and, eventually, a new parking lot. However, with organizations like HPA, some of these buildings can be revitalized in a way that would enrich the historic character of Hartford and provide a service to the city’s inhabitants. There is a solution to revamping the city, an answer that involves economic development, and a key to that is keeping the aesthetic of the city unapologetically rooted in Hartford’s heritage. The answer is historic preservation. My time working at HPA highlighted this important fact to me. So, to conclude, did I enjoy my time at the Hartford Preservation Alliance? Of course. Now, there is more work to be done and I truly believe that this organization can make a real difference especially because of Hartford’s rich history. I am sad to leave, but I will continue to support the organization and encourage any student in the area, especially those interested in history, urban studies, and architecture, to apply for a position at HPA.

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We Shouldn’t Ignore Small

This week we welcome guest blogger Jonathan Cabral. Mr. Cabral is a Multifamily Operations Officer at the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and is a Director on Hartford Preservation Alliance’s Board .

We Shouldn't Ignore Small

For many of us who have lived in Connecticut most of our lives, we often take for granted some of the most charming aspects of New England. In a time where development, particularly economic development, is about going big (did someone say Go Goats!) we overlook the importance of smaller developments. Many of our downtowns are made up of small mixed-use buildings with warm brick façades and unique architectural design left behind by our New England forefathers. In some of our oldest commercial corridors, you will find small multifamily buildings that were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These buildings generally have less than 20 housing units but are larger than a three or four family home, and were designed to be practical, aesthetically pleasing, and long lasting. Small multifamily and mixed-use buildings can provide the type of housing density and affordability that is oftentimes lacking in many of our communities. It is also the type of development that can be conducive to creating more walkable neighborhoods.

Small properties make up a sizable portion of our current housing stock. Nearly 10% of Connecticut’s total housing units are found in structures with 5–19 units. When you calculate small properties as a proportion to just multifamily structures (2 or more units), over 26% of Connecticut’s multifamily housing units are found in structures with 5–19 units. [1] Most of this housing is located in our urban centers, like Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Stamford. In addition, small multifamily buildings contribute significantly to the economy. According to the Joint Center of Housing Studies of Harvard University, a quarter of the nation’s affordable housing stock is in multifamily properties with 5–19 units. Typically owned by individuals who often perform their own administrative and maintenance functions, these properties are not only an asset to their owners but are their livelihood.

The unfortunate reality is that these properties do not have easily accessible capital that many larger properties have. Older small properties have become neglected over time and many require significant funds to rehabilitate, while small infill developments can often require as much time and effort as larger deals to put together. Small property development requires entrepreneurial thinking by both owners/developers and lending institutions for them to work.

Over the years CHFA has worked to try and come up with the right funding and formula to make small multifamily projects financeable through its relationships with the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). For example, in 2014 CHFA launched its Small Multifamily CDFI Loan Pool which provides participating CDFIs a funding source to offer short- and long-term financing to properties with 3 to 20 units. Since its inception, the loan pool has helped finance 27 once blighted or vacant properties, resulting in 100 units of housing. It is this small development “incremental” approach that can result in the development of more affordable rental housing in smaller communities, and help revitalize weak real-estate markets that have limited growth but significant need.

[1] – 2010 – 2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

This article first appeared in the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s newsletter. 

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Frog Hollow: Neighborhood Planning at Its Finest

(map courtesy Frog Hollow NRZ)

(map courtesy Frog Hollow NRZ)

Frog Hollow Neighborhood where I lived for 15 years is alive and thrives when viewed through the lens of the Neighborhood Revitalization Zone. Many good things are happening all of which involve preservation and restoration of historic buildings. Yet the buildings are a physical reminder of the vigilant community effort to make the community one in which to live and work. 390 Capitol Avenue is under construction and will bring in excess of 100 new apartments to Frog Hollow. Billings Forge is undergoing an $8 million renovation to update and improve the residence long associated with stability in the neighborhood. Although still a struggle after many years, the library is dedicated to creating a new Frog Hollow Branch along Park Street (adaptive reuse of the historic Lyric Theater remains the pivotal argument) which will bring vitality to the boisterous neighborhood. Plans are in motion for an improvement to the Zion Hill Cemetery.

3. Frog HollowPositive community activity does not simply happen in a vacuum witnessed by the vigorous agenda of the Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zone. For many years the NRZ has initiated and fought for positive change. It has remained the organization whose voice matters when the City determines action steps, investment and direction. Under the leadership of New chair Aaron Gill, the organization is alive and well. Consideration has been given to five key priorities, strategies to continue the focus on curing neighborhood challenges. Witness to a monthly meeting assures this writer that dedication and the willingness to volunteer is alive and will ultimately cause positive change. Neighborhood problem properties (including the future of the Lyric), youth engagement, community outreach around the City plans for the future, employment and public transportation (particularly circulation around the several neighborhood schools) are the strategic activities adopted last evening. Far more encouraging were several new residents who came to add their voices and their willingness to participate in the work to be accomplished. There were no lack of volunteers to execute committee work on behalf of the identified priorities.

Hartford is well-represented by active and robust organizations such as Frog Hollow. This neighborhood organization embodies all the best qualities envisioned when the Connecticut Legislature created these urban Neighborhood Revitalization Zones (NRZ) in Hartford. Some have been effective; others have struggled to gain their identity. It is all too apparent that Frog Hollow has gotten it right for many years. Again, as the baton has been passed along, it remains as a shining example of a community taking care of itself. Bringing together people to address problems and opportunities is exactly what our new Mayor, Luke Bronin, has committed his administration to – to sustain and support as the work horse through which we all will witness a better city.

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A New Preservation Partner

In 2015 The Parkville Neighborhood was approved and then ratified itself as a national historic district.  This represented several years of effort to protect and preserve a community built around one of Hartford’s industrial centers.  Concerns for having someone make decisions on behalf of property owners was eased through community meetings and individual discussions.  By the time the neighborhoods voted to become a district, they had realized that preserving the community in which they lived by protecting their historic fabric far outweighed their caution.

During the process the building at 84 Sisson Avenue, once home to The Phoenix Club, literally disappeared overnight to become a parking lot.  Further the community had rallied for several years to prevent the installation of a new gas station.  With the protections provided by the preservation requirements of an historic district the neighborhood now has a new, strong ally to oppose any changes to the face of the streets they call home.  Available financial resources brought to renovation and preservation projects is a most potent argument as well.

94 New Park Avenue

94 New Park Avenue

In October the first request for a renovation project in Parkville went before the Hartford Historic Preservation Commission.  The property owner at 94 New Park Avenue was referred to the Preservation Alliance for technical assistance on exterior design and materials to rejuvenate a terrific three-family property.  Staff made suggestions and offered advice to the owner of how to improve the façade of the home while keeping an eye on the budget.  New windows, porches, siding and steps were considered.  A very workable project was crafted with the owner and once in front of the Historic Commission was approved unanimously.

In talking with the owner we find that he was totally comfortable with the process through which he gained a building permit.  He feels that the property is a fine investment within a neighborhood he feels is stable and solid. With the attractive renovation features he will be able to attract renters, solidify his investment and improve the value of his property.

With the addition of the Parkville Historic District, Hartford now has 5,322 properties listed on the Hartford, State and National Registers of Historic Places. The Preservation Alliance is the resource that property owners can turn to, to gain advice to preserve and protect their investment without breaking the bank.  Our job is not to be the organization of “no” but one of “here’s how we will make it work”.  Happy to learn your thoughts.

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