Historic Preservation vs. the Housing Crisis

How can cities balance the benefits of historic preservation with the need for new housing?
January 2, 2018, 6am PST | Elana Eden
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Steven Lilley (sk8geek)

In Sightline, Dan Bertolet argues against "overzealous or misplaced" historic preservation rules that restrict new, dense housing, especially in cities with housing shortages.

"Historic preservation, when it interferes with homebuilding, can worsen a city's shortage of homes, driving up rents and pushing out low-income residents," he writes. "If cities aren't careful, their historic preservation regulations can function as exclusionary zoning." (That dynamic, as it played out in in Columbus, Ohio, was captured as part of Laura Poitras's 2003 documentary Flag Wars.)

Bertolet acknowledges the array of benefits, including economic benefits, linked to preserving cultural resources. In the case that sparked his concern, a 200-unit transit-adjacent building was rejected, not because it would have demolished a historic building, but because it would have been taller than the surrounding historic neighborhood. He delves into a number of examples in Seattle, and proposes an overarching solution:

The ideal, longer-term fix entails establishing a housing “budget”: every preservation ruling that causes a number of homes not to be built would require an offsetting change in zoning elsewhere in the same neighborhood to allow construction of the same number of new homes. In this way, historic preservation would operate under the principle of no net loss of homes.

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Published on Tuesday, December 19, 2017 in Sightline
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