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by Preservation Action
October 12, 2007

On September 7, Representative Brian Higgins (D-NY) introduced the Neighborhood Reclamation and Revitalization Act of 2007 (H.R. 3498) that would authorize $100 million to be spent on the demolition of vacant housing over three years. On September 17, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) introduced a companion bill in her chamber (S. 2054). The House legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Financial services and has 12 cosponsors. These include: Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY), Rep. Michael Doyle (D-PA, and on the Historic Preservation Caucus), Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY, HP Caucus member), Rep. Tim Holden (D-PA), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI), Rep. Michael McNulty (D-NY), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH).

The Senate bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

The bill’s language is similar to blight fighting urban renewal programs mostly discontinued by the mid 1980s. The bill begins “Congress finds that vacant residential properties are a scourge on communities, leading to lower property tax revenues for municipalities, higher municipal maintenance costs, and severe public health and environmental problems.”

The federal program would provide grants to local governments to either demolish vacant housing or demolish vacant housing and study of what might be done with the cleared land. To be eligible for the funds, the local government has to demonstrate continued population loss beginning with the 1980 decennial census, have a considerable amount of vacant housing, have “substantial urban decay and neighborhood degradation resulting from vacant housing” and have a coordinated plan for getting rid of vacant buildings.

Needless to say, this legislation presents a serious problem for those of us seeking to maintain and revitalize our historic residential building stock. Given the composition of the cosponsor list and Senator Clinton’s history of support for historic preservation (Save America’s Treasures was a First Lady initiative during the Clinton Administration), there may be opportunities to adjust thinking within the current base of support for the bill. Preservation Action is looking into how the negative impacts of this program have been considered during the legislation’s development. Once more is known about the evolution of the policy, Preservation Action will report back to you and lay out who you need to contact.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633