Residents to lobby for historic tax credit


A handful of Baltimore homeowners and community organizers are planning to go to Annapolis this week to defend the state's historic tax credit program, saying it has been successful in revitalizing the city's old housing stock.

The state program, enacted in 1997, refunds to homeowners 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitating houses considered of historic value. Critics say the $25 million to $30 million program -- about half of the funds go to city residents -- is something the state cannot afford in the current budget crisis.

Mount Vernon and other city neighborhoods have sounded a rallying cry after learning that state legislators will consider abolishing the historic tax credit program. The proposal will be discussed at a Senate hearing Wednesday.

Charles B. Duff Jr., head of the Midtown Development Corp., said the program has helped revive homes in aging city neighborhoods.

"If it weren't for the historic tax credit, people would not take the financial risk of fixing up old houses. It plugs the gap," Duff said. "So we have to take this bill very seriously."

Duff said he and citywide representatives -- including some from Charles Village and Patterson Park -- will carpool to Annapolis on Wednesday, planning to lobby the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit historic preservation group, has also spoken out against the bill.

Community organizers say progress in the midtown neighborhood has been slow but real since the state tax credit program took effect. They point to what they say are indications that the number of owner-occupied residences has risen from 10 percent to 15 percent in the 1000 and 1100 blocks of N. Calvert St. in the past few years.

Will Backstrom, program director at the Midtown Development Corp, said the tax credit "is a tool we utilize to reclaim urban space. It's very important to this neighborhood."

One resident, Tricia Francis, 34, has spent the past four years living in and restoring a Victorian house at East Biddle and St. Paul streets that she bought for $156,000.

Francis, an instructional designer who moved from Ashburn, Va., has invested money in a new kitchen, sanding the parquet floors, painting the walls, and polishing the home's original interior features. After the work was completed, she received a refund from the state for $43,500.

Looking up at her winding central staircase, Francis said, "What a wonderful thing it is. ... And I wouldn't have been able to do it without the tax credit."

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