Planting the Seeds

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Holcomb Street, Blue Hills

Last weekend I attended a housing forum organized by the Blue Hills Civic Association: It was organized by my friend Maurice Robertson and came together as one truly potent resource for home owners and prospective buyers.  A wide range of topics were discussed from lead-based contaminants to first-time home buyer mortgage programs.  My role was to talk about the incredible financial resource in utilizing the State of Connecticut Homeowner Tax Credits for properties listed as historic or incorporated in an historic district.

Hartford suffers from a very weak percentage of homeowners.  The overall rate of ownership is about 24%;  in my neighborhood that rate hovers at 11%.  This is a disturbing statistic for a city which is in great need of a base of property owners.  It is practical to say that a homeowner represents someone who has made an investment here and works that much harder to create stability.  Please, this takes nothing away from those people who rent, as an affordable housing developer I firmly believe that a long term lease and a good landlord represents an asset for any household.  Still the base of homeowners is a foundation for any vibrant community.  Blue Hills Civic Association recognizes the benefit to educate and encourage property owners in its community.

Aside from the various city resources and programs to help property owners all of which can offer great assistance to homeowners I took particular note of the presentation by Chris Galvez  from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority:

We learned that CHFA has “targeted” Hartford to make home buying easier and more flexible to attract households in the City.  His array of programs is impressive and demonstrate a true commitment to encouraging buyers to invest here, in our communities and to put down roots.  I want to applaud Chris and CHFA for their wonderful work on our behalf.  We are so encouraged to have dedicated partners who can provide real support for Hartford’s future.

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Welcome (Back!) to the Neighborhood

10 Irving before & after

To be clear it is an occupational habit of historic preservationists to gush over before and after pictures of properties. It probably springs from the desire to demonstrate that old buildings can be brought back to life. A gasp or two is always appreciated! One of our recent achievements is the completion of an attractive renovation of a two-family property located at 10 Irving Street. Irving Street is part of the Upper Albany National Historic District with the property located between Albany and Homestead Avenues. Due to its location in an historic district the renovation project would require Hartford Historic Preservation Commission to gain a building permit. Development Services staff of the City asked if The Preservation Alliance’s Technical Assistance team could consult with the property owners providing advice on a renovation plan.

A-1Our technical assistance comes in many ways ranging from a few comments to providing architectural drawings and consultation and aiding the application process to gain Residential Historic Tax Credits. Let’s be clear it is really the patient and professional guidance provided by Valerio Giadone our architect and Technical Services Advisor. As we have come to expect Valerio met the needs of the property owners to refresh and protect their investment, owners often concerned with the long term cost of maintenance. However, we work to adhere to Hartford’s historic preservation guidelines. Cost of renovation most often centers on the desire to replace wooden painted siding with vinyl. Preservationists usual groan and roll their eyes when the dreaded vinyl is proposed and for good reason. Often when installing vinyl contractors want to take the easiest route so often cover or destroy architectural elements in a rush. We want to be practical on behalf of owners so our success is to negotiate new siding material and installation which can co-exist with the elements so important to a property’s historic value.

Valerio drew up sketches to modify porches and to guide vinyl siding. The proposed work was approved by the Historic Commission and work commenced. We present the completed project with a sense of pride for a job well done. This property now stands out as a fine example of successful restoration and once again is back in the neighborhood providing vitality and long term viability as a community development model.

10 Irving before & after

We think this property a real success and hope that you do as well. Your comments are always appreciated.

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Ms. Julie C. Tells You What’s What

Often we at the Preservation Alliance speak about the singular benefit of the State’s Historic Homes Tax Credit. Historic properties utilizing a tax credit, which offers financial resources to rehabilitation projects, is a true and unique benefit in Connecticut.

The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), a part of the Department of Economic and Community Development ,has produced a series of videos to inform and guide applicants on how to secure tax credits for a residential project.  Starring none other than Julie Carmelich, Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Administrator, they are simple, clear, informative and truly helpful. These videos can walk a homeowner through the process of securing an allocation of tax credits.

We often speak to property owners about how tax credits can reduce the out of pocket expense of doing rehabilitation projects. There are several steps which must be accomplished and the work envisioned must meet certain preservation guidelines to work.  Yet securing this financial resource is not at all difficult.

We at the Preservation Alliance stand ready to offer guidance to property owners in Hartford and surrounding towns.  Our Historic Home Rehabilitation Tax Credit website page provides all the information needed to apply for the tax credit.  Our technical assistance team is ready to help an owner move forward with a project.

We really like to help make preservation matter (and easier) here in the City.  The State Historic Preservation Office is always working hard to making this more accessible.  We urge you to spend some time reviewing these videos.  Making contact with Julie is direct, she offers several methods of getting in touch with her regarding questions, comments or concerns You can also follow the SHPO on FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/CTSHPO/?fref=ts

We all are here to help and truly Ms Julie C knows what’s what about homeowner tax credit.

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A Debut

120 Whitney before

120 Whitney before

Early last fall Marcus Lane, a West End homeowner, applied to the city for building permits to remodel their house which had been oddly modified over many years and renovate it to an original design.  The character of the house was hidden under odd exterior additions, inexpensive siding, an industrial handicap ramp and none-to-pretty windows. Standing at the corner of Whitney and Fern Streets, drivers stopped at the traffic light got a good lesson in what ought not to be done to a property in an historic district. The city Planning Department staff referred the owner to the Preservation Alliance for our guidance in getting the Historic Preservation Commission’s approval.

Valerio Giadone, the unsung hero of our technical assistance program, responded in typical fashion, quietly assessing the scope of the project.  His skill and talent lies in a deep knowledge of historic architecture, an architect’s eye toward design and his experience in offering suggestions which work well on a property but will not break the bank.

120 Whitney now - a work in progess

120 Whitney now – a work in progess

The petition going before the Hartford Historic Preservation Commission on this renovation project was nothing short of epic.  No element of the house exterior was being ignored – new siding, new windows, a new front door, modifications to exterior entrances and the elimination of the ramp.  With slow and steady patience, good drawings of the proposed work and great coaching Valerio sharpened the request to a manageable discussion of what was to be a terrific improvement for the neighborhood. In his note of thank, the homeowner spoke of Valerio’s patient technical assistance that has made the project much easier and resulted in a favorable approval from the commission.  Now under construction, a lovely center hall colonial is reemerging, ready to once again contribute to a neighborhood of homes which owners take great pride in preserving.

During 2015 the Preservation Alliance created a team which dedicates itself to making historic preservation less painful both in process and pocketbook.  We welcome all inquiries and are happy to help.  We join the National Trust in its program “This Place Matters” and want to extend that to mean we can guide property owners on achieving that goal.  Give us a call, we can help!

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Blight Matters

DCFC0001.JPGIn 2011, I founded the Land Bank of Indianapolis, now known as Renew Indianapolis, which was created to address the festering problem of vacant and abandoned properties in Indianapolis, blight to be sure.  At the time there were some 5,000 properties which is a seemingly huge number until you realize that the land mass of the consolidated city of Indianapolis is basically 12 times the size of Hartford.

We worked for nearly two years to analyze the negative impact on the city and why did it matter.  Working with the city administration, corporate, community and elected officials we educated the public on the economic impact that blight effects on the fiscal life of a city.  We had a very easy job of proving to neighborhoods that the negative impact of vacant and abandoned property is real.  If the house next door is empty and the owner non-existent the concerns of personal safety are a major factor in an overall decline of a community wellbeing.  Morale and a sense of belonging is truly tested as one stands on a front porch and views a street of bad repair and a lack of urban commitment. Along with blight comes arson, drug deals, squatters and prostitution.

23-25 Madison - a vacant property in historic Frog Hollow

23-25 Madison – a vacant property in historic Frog Hollow

Working closely with a relatively new non-profit, the Center for Community Progress, we learned that there are cities with far greater problems like Detroit, Cleveland and Flint.  The issues we face here in Hartford are totally similar but for the scale.

We now know that a property’s value is diminished by 2.5 % if within 200 feet of a vacant structure.  The cost to a municipality is staggering.  South Bend, Indiana calculated that 28 % of its public safety budget was directly related to problems caused by vacant and abandoned properties.  Police and fire runs are routine; drug activity will always find the opportunity of no witness and little resistance.

On Monday evening Mayor Luke Bronin laid out a fairly bleak fiscal picture for Hartford yet among his priorities was the need to address blight. The Preservation Alliance recognizes its role to play as a critical partner in reducing neighborhood blight. Our strategic plan declares our commitment to community economic development as the basis for our work here.  Of the 400 Hartford properties listed as vacant, nearly half are located in historic districts.  On this year’s  list of our Top Ten Endangered properties, 80% are vacant.  We believe that we can help to effect positive resources for communities:

  1. During 2015 our Technical Assistance team has become a property owner resource for design and cost-effective approach to rehabilitation. We have worked closely with the Development Services staff to ease the process of getting a building permit to do work on historic properties including consulting with the Hartford Preservation Commission.
  2. Connecticut has an amazing historic tax credit program which is available to property owners located in designated districts. This is a tremendous financial tool which can encourage a property owner to renovate and rehabilitate with additional funds for a rehabilitation project. We now routinely offer our services to consult on navigating the process to utilize tax credits.

We are eager to be part of the Hartford’s solution to blight and welcome you to join us!

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