Preservation = Jobs
by John H. Cluver, AIA, LEED
What does the Recovery Act and Save America’s Treasures have in common? The answer: economic stimulus and jobs. Unfortunately, those responsible for setting the 2010 federal budget haven’t seen the connection, and the budget recently sent by the White House to Congress has eliminated funding to the Save America’s Treasures program. And that is a travesty, especially at a time when the government is trying to encourage spending that will generate jobs. Consider the following:
- Over the past 10 years, it has spent $300 million to assist in the restoration of over 1,600 historic buildings of national and local significance. It is a matching grant program, so this federal money is leveraged with local or private contributions, making it even more valuable then it first appears.
- Donations to non-profits, particularly for capital projects, are down. SAT could be used to encourage donations. Instead, by being suspended, yet another potential funding source is being denied to worthwhile projects.
- Rehabilitation projects can do more to stimulate an economy than new construction. A typical construction project’s cost is roughly 50% labor and 50% material, perhaps weighted a bit more heavily toward labor depending on the market (the United States Green Building Council estimates 55% labor to 45% material). A rehabilitation project, in contrast, requires much more on-site labor, using more skilled craftsman, putting the labor percentage as commonly cited by preservation organizations in the 60% to 70% range. In addition, the materials that are needed to restore a historic building tend to be locally available and generate additional jobs, since historic buildings tended to be built from resources that were nearby to minimize the need for expensive shipping.
- Reusing a historic building is inherently a sustainable activity, meeting another goal of the Recovery Act.
- Last year, SAT distributed $9.5 million dollars to 41 projects (or 0.0012% of the Recovery Act appropriation). It is hard to believe that it was economically necessary to eliminate this make-jobs program.
- I was going to figure out they amount of money spent by the Recovery Act per job generated, and compare it to that of SAT. It turns out that noted preservation economist Donovan Rypkema beat me to it (and did it better than I would have, too). He determined that SAT has created 16,012 jobs, at a cost of $13,780 per job. Compare that to the Recovery Act’s cost per job of $248,000, and it makes you wonder why we are fighting to save this program. For more information, see his February 8 entry at http://www.placeeconomics.com/blog.html.
It appears that the United States government is having trouble coming up with money to save its historic buildings, but perhaps it can find a way to support a very efficient job creation program that has the added benefit of protecting our history.
The National Trust is organizing an advocacy effort for this and other funding needs, highlighted by Historic Preservation Advocacy Week March 1 to March 5. For more information on the Save America’s Treasures budget threat, check out their information page at http://blogs.nationaltrust.org/preservationnation/?p=8203.
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