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Credits due for repairs in historic districts; Work by homeowners can be offset up to 20%

Homeowners thinking about making repairs should know that their location may determine whether they're eligible for tax credits to cover up to 20 percent of the work.

That's the message that state and preservation organizations are trying to get out to property owners in historic districts throughout Western New York.

Created in 2010, the state Historic Homeownership Rehabilitation Tax Credit covers 20 percent of eligible repairs and improvements on homes in historic districts. The grants, which expire in 2014, are for owner-occupied homes, at least 50 years old, in districts on either the national or state registers of historic places and in eligible census tracts.

There are numerous such districts across the region.

The program is designed to preserve historic features, rather than replace them.

"We don't really have a program for remodeling. This is a preservation tax credit," said Andrea J. Rebeck, a preservation architect and preservation specialist for Preservation Buffalo Niagara.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Preservation League of New York State held a session in Amherst on Wednesday to help real estate agents inform their clients. Another event in Buffalo at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site was directed at homeowners. Today a program at the Towne Restaurant in Allentown will be geared to architects, contractors and design professionals.

The work must cost at least $5,000, at least 5 percent of which must be used on the exterior, and credits cannot exceed $50,000. The State Historic Preservation Office approves work beforehand, and the credits are received once the work has been completed.

A registration fee, ranging from $50 to $500, varies with the project value.

Projects can be large or small, including work on roofs, chimneys, porches, boilers and furnaces, and air conditioning. The focus of the work must be on maintaining the property's past, so much of what cannot be repaired must be replaced in similar fashion. Window repair is preferred to window replacement, but exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Homeowners, as well as owners of commercial and rental properties, can find out if a specific property is eligible for a preservation tax credit by visiting http://www.nysparks.com/shpo/tax-credit-programs. A home with a rental unit, for example, may benefit from the combination of a commercial credit and a homeowner's credit.

Dolores M. Murphy, of Days Park in Allentown, was approved within the last two months for work on her home. Without the credit, she said, she either would have downsized or simply not have undertaken her rehabilitation project, which has cost $36,000. She expects additional costs of about $10,000.

Murphy said the process can take some time.

"The process itself is fairly straightforward," she said. "The forms themselves are easy enough to fill out. But after you mail them to Albany, then it takes about 30 days. But it was worth the wait."

Rebeck, who lives in Albion, has taken advantage of the credit. She needed masonry repairs and window restoration. The work, which is still under way, has a projected cost of $20,000.

"I didn't find it difficult," she said, "but I am used to dealing with this paperwork. I would say that with a little bit of guidance, which they can get from [the State Historic Preservation Office], it shouldn't be very difficult."

Several districts in Western New York are eligible for the credit, and new ones are being proposed for creation or expansion. Eligible city districts include Allentown, West Village, the 500 block of Main Street and parts of Linwood and Delaware avenues.

Other Western New York districts include Oak Hill Park in Olean, East Main Street and French Portage Road in Westfield, and Lowertown in the City of Lockport.

Parts of Buffalo's Black Rock section are expected to be included in June, said Clinton Brown of Clinton Brown Company Architecture, a preservation architecture firm that helped survey the neighborhood and prepare it for nomination.

The Allentown community may see an additional 300 eligible structures, after a 2010 grant from the Preservation League of New York State helped the Allentown Association's effort to boost the area's total to about 700. Research is expected to be complete this fall.

The state also offers tax credits for commercial preservation, which may be combined with those from the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program to reimburse owners 40 percent of the cost of a rehabilitation project. Each program offers 20 percent credits.

There is no federal complement to the homeowner credit.

"The goal of the state tax credit is to help homeowners invest in what may be the single most important, expensive and valuable asset of their lifetimes," said Tania G. Werbizky, regional director for the Preservation League of New York State.

Werbizky said her organization has found that home values stabilize or rise after districts begin to invest in preservation.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com