Colourful and detailed panel work, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from emili(o)’s photostream

Pittsburgh has more than a dozen registered historic districts with many homes and buildings dating back more than one hundred years. These historic gems, from Manchester to the South Side Flats, are part of what makes Pittsburgh so special and sets us apart from other U.S. cities. Preserving these historic areas and encouraging historically-appropriate renovations and developments should be a top priority for city government and the various boards and commissions that review proposed plans. However, we also have to make sure that restrictions placed upon property owners in historic districts are not so onerous that we inadvertently prevent low- and moderate-income property owners from making needed repairs or renovations. We can find a comfortable balance between historic protections and economic fairness and the entire city will be better off for it.

1. Community Reinvestment Through Historic Preservation

Oftentimes historic preservation is seen as being in competition with creating affordable neighborhoods accessible to low- and moderate-income people. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, with the proper leadership we can turn historic preservation into an engine of community reinvestment to help people without access to capital to make the repairs and renovations they need to while complying with the requirements of the city’s historic districts.

There are already several federal and state programs that are increasingly aimed at helping low- and moderate-income people make renovations or repairs such as the federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, however most of these programs are limited to income-producing properties. We should work to make these programs easier to access but we must also create targeted local programs that help individual homeowners, not just landlords or commercial property owners. These programs will create opportunities to rebuild these neighborhoods equitably, without the fear of gentrification that could push low- and moderate-income residents out.

2. The Rebuilding Our History Program

Based on successful programs in Atlanta, Georgia and Portland, Oregon, I will create a Rebuilding Our History Program that supports historic preservation while limiting exclusionary gentrification. This program will provide financial assistance to low- and moderate-income property owners in historic districts, create a nonprofit housing trust fund to purchase historic properties to be rehabbed and resold at affordable rates to qualified buyers, and freeze property taxes for homeowners below a certain income threshold who use these tools to make historically-appropriate repairs or renovations.