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Make all of Buffalo eligible for homeowner program

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders should expand a proven program to help fulfill the governor's pledge of $1 billion for the City of Buffalo by making the state historic rehabilitation tax credit, especially the historic homeowner credit, eligible in every census tract in Buffalo, not just some of them, as is currently the case. Making all of Buffalo eligible for this state historic credit would leverage hundreds of jobs in our economically challenged city with some of those billion dollars.

By adopting the legislation now before them to extend the time frame of the state historic tax credit and making it available to every historic building in Buffalo, our elected leaders in Albany will add hundreds of jobs this year and for years to come for painters, roofers, kitchen and bath remodelers, plumbers, electricians and home handymen. This legislation would also stimulate long-term investment in a city that everyone agrees needs and deserves it.

Here's how the historic homeowner program works. The state provides an income tax credit or refund of 20 percent of the costs of pre-approved home improvements costing more than $5,000 when historic homeowners choose to apply for it. Currently this benefit is available only in certain distressed census tracts. But all census tracts in Buffalo are distressed by most measures. Enhancing the program in the spirit of its original intent — to create jobs in distressed places — would make this benefit available to every historic homeowner throughout our economically challenged city.

Importantly, this program already meets the governor's key criteria for Buffalo's billion: The improvements are pre-approved through an existing, simple and fast state review; one public dollar matches every 5 private dollars invested; the historic homeowner makes the investment first, the state invests second; the program leverages jobs now for local skilled and semiskilled workers. Other benefits include stabilized home ownership in existing historic neighborhoods, enhanced property values, and reduced costly sprawl.

Born at a time of fiscal constraint that demanded census tract limitations, the state historic tax credit can now be made more available because the state is in better financial shape, thanks to Cuomo. We know this program works: Over its past two years, hundreds of historic homeowners already have hired thousands of home improvement workers, according to statewide data, and it pays for itself too.

Now is the time make the tax credit available to every historic building in Buffalo, regardless of census tract. Please ask Albany elected leaders to support Cuomo's commitment to Buffalo and make this historic rehabilitation tax credit available to all the city's historic homes this year.

Clinton Brown is a Buffalo historic preservation architect and an expert in historic rehabilitation tax credits.