In the renovation of a historic property, whether it's a brick rowhouse in Baltimore's Marble Hill or a century-old Victorian in Relay, tax credits can make a difference. They can serve as an incentive to take on a project or provide some financial relief in completing it. They have helped revitalize neighborhoods in Baltimore, and the City Council shouldn't hesitate today in approving an extension of the city's historic tax credit program to 2007.
The Baltimore County Council took the right step last week when it expanded the parameters of the county's historic tax credit program. The program was underused and in need of a boost. To qualify for the county tax credit, renovations had to equal 25 percent of the property's worth - a requirement that was unduly onerous. With the law's change, homeowners who spend more than $1,000 renovating a historic property will now receive a tax rebate of 20 percent of the cost of the improvements. Owners of businesses or other commercial properties will get a break on their property taxes for a decade.
The city's historic tax credit would work like this: A property owner would receive a tax credit on the value added by a historic renovation that met city guidelines. The credit would extend for 10 years.
Despite a multitude of historic neighborhoods in the city and county, officials from both jurisdictions have said that their respective tax credit programs were underused. County officials say more than 3,000 properties could be eligible for the credit because they are historic landmarks or are located in historic districts.
City officials attribute about $184 million in economic development to the historic tax credit program since 1996. But most of the related renovation work has occurred in Fells Point, Canton and Patterson Park, even though 72 city neighborhoods have some historic designation. That tells us city officials need to better market the program in a diverse range of neighborhoods, from Upton's Marble Hill and Old West Baltimore to Oakenshawe and Southwest Baltimore's Mill Hill.
Historic tax credit programs can go a long way toward preserving landmarks, rebuilding neighborhoods and restoring the character and charm that make our communities uniquely livable spaces.