Should you even care?


Historic Tax Credits & Why They Matter

Little excites me more than a community finding a modern use for a historic building.

Nerdy, I know.

But just check out this church turned indoor rock gym, gas station turned restaurant, and bank turned grocery store, and I guarantee you’ll be geeking out over the untapped potential of abandoned and underperforming historic buildings alongside me.

Historic tax credits make it possible to revitalize historic properties that have a financing gap between what banks will lend and the total cost of rehabilitation.

Developers restoring income-producing (i.e. commercial, industrial, agricultural, or rental-residential) buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places or certified by the National Parks Service can apply for personal or corporate net income tax credits from West Virginia worth 10 percent of rehabilitation expenses.

Unfortunately, West Virginia’s 10 percent rate just isn’t cutting it — especially considering all of our neighboring states have either a 20 or 25 percent historic tax credit rate. Developers are wary of rehabbing buildings here because the risk is so much higher compared to places just across the state border.

Over the last few months, the Revitalize West Virginia’s Downtowns Coalition (including Generation West Virginia) has been advocating to increase the rate to 25 percent to make our state’s historic districts more attractive to developers and spur private investment.

As a young person living in West Virginia, here’s why I think an increased historic tax credit rate is a game-changer:

A competitive historic tax credit makes it possible to rehab vacant, deteriorating “white elephant” buildings — and creates a domino effect.

Every neighborhood or town in West Virginia has at least one. The eyesore that looks worse every day. With a robust historic tax credit program, a developer could close the gap in financing that’s required to rehab that “white elephant” and open the eyes of other property owners to the potential of their own buildings. What’s amazing is that, in some cases, the rehabilitation of a single building is enough to stimulate the revitalization of an entire area. Other times, a series of smaller rehabs can result in the critical mass necessary to bring a neighborhood or community back to prosperity.

A competitive historic tax credit leads to improved and affordable housing.

As a former AmeriCorps VISTA and now a nonprofit employee, I’ve had trouble finding quality housing on a limited budget. West Virginia’s towns and cities have a staggering number of vacant buildings that could be converted into apartments or condos. Other states have seen a competitive historic tax credit lead to the increased availability of housing, including low- and moderate-income housing.

A competitive historic tax credit fosters entrepreneurship.

West Virginia is a great place for enterprising, young individuals looking to start their own business. One thing most cities and towns lack, however, is affordable commercial space. Commercial rents are either astronomical (on par with much larger East Coast cities — seriously) or landlords expect tenants to foot the cost of rehab (not feasible for a start-up).

A competitive historic tax credit promotes sustainability.

Remember learning the “Three R’s” in elementary school – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? Historic rehab is essentially the embodiment of all three. Because rehab projects require fewer new materials and fewer energy resources to transport construction materials, rehab is a more environmentally-friendly development approach compared to new construction. It also reduces sprawl and preserves the green space that makes West Virginia such a beautiful place to live.

A competitive historic tax credit contributes to beautiful and vibrant communities.

It’s no surprise that young people are moving not only to where the jobs are but also to where they want to live. A beautiful and vibrant community is a major contributor to that decision. Dense, walkable, active, and architecturally-rich neighborhoods attract new residents and investment. The reuse of historic buildings capitalizes on one of an area’s unique assets — and helps create an authentic sense of place.

If you think an increased historic tax credit rate could be a game changer (or even a smart play in the playbook) for West Virginia, head over to OSAY to contact your lawmakers.

Nicole Marrocco is the Abandoned Property Coalition Coordinator for the West Virginia Community Development Hub. She coordinates The Hub’s community-based policy work related to downtown redevelopment and dilapidated properties, including the Revitalize West Virginia Downtowns campaign to increase the historic tax credit. When she’s not geeking out about the revitalization of post-industrial centers, you might find her eating ice cream or putting together an overly ambitious Spotify playlist.

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