Do Historic Districts Work and Renovate Communities?

Ever stroll through, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and see a “historical district” as it relates to homes, and think “Boy, this must be the most treasured area of the community!”

Well, that is not the case…

Historic districts are intended for areas where homes are older and signify the “they just don’t build them like they used too” vibe. However, when the district is not applied properly, it can handcuff homeowners into not being able to make significant changes to their property that they may of been able to perform should they have not of been within a historic district.

For example, within the near west side of downtown Aurora, Illinois, the Tanner historic district exists. This district encompasses a series of homes considered to be within the price range of a first time homebuyer. There in lies the problem…the first time homebuyer has no disposable income.  Yet, due to restrictions in meeting historic district repair criteria, home repairs go neglected due to expense to the homeowner. With this in mind, the homes fall apart and historical district becomes a bunch of broken down old homes with no real resolve of getting any better.

So, what guidelines does the City of Aurora, IL require homeowners to follow within the historic district?  Well…check out this link.

Question for this blogger is…why do historic districts exist at all? Why not just have the homeowner “opt in” for a historic district status that would span a licensing period for that individual home?  This would be similar to a “landmark status” but simplified. Reasons include the following for structuring a historical designation in this manner :

  • Historical districts cover areas where there are homes with no historic significance in terms of architecture.
  • Price point for historical districts are critical! They should span areas in which disposable income serves proportionate to the repairs needed. Thus, in Aurora, IL, any home over $250,000 could qualify.
  • Repairs on these “historical” homes come at a premium.

Sadly, our real estate brokerage has seen homeowners forced to the brink of foreclosure because they have not been able to sell their home due to the updates required on the basis of meeting basic guidelines for the historic district. This hurts, not only the homeowner, but, all neighbors in the community!

Now, there are to be benefits to living in a historic district. Primarily, this is the promotion of stability by having minimum standards in place for repair to the older home. However, other benefits may include :

  • Federal income tax credits for renovation of the home.
  • County tax credits
  • Municipal incentives
  • Grants and loans from organizations like National Trust for Historic Preservation and Landmarks Illinois.

However, if your historic district does not offer these benefits, then, is the district only hampering you?  Would love your feedback on the matter! Here’s a general overview of what the National Association of Realtors has to say.