Public Policy is one of the cornerstones of our work at the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. Year in and year out, we provide a voice for preservation at local, state and federal levels of government. But, the Washington Trust is just one voice. Like everything we do, we rely on our partners, stakeholders, and you – our members and constituents – to join us in supporting policies and programs that advance the cause of preservation and, most importantly, enhance the neighborhoods and communities in which we live. Economic development and revitalization are key elements of historic preservation, but just as important are the benefits to our collective memory, shared experience, and sense of place. Whether it is part of our daily consciousness or not, historic resources ground us, nurture us and often comfort us. They are essential. Places matter, and together, with a unified voice, our advocacy can work to save Places that Matter.

Statewide Legislation

During state legislative sessions, which begin annually on the second Monday in January, the Washington Trust closely tracks bills related to historic preservation topics and attends the weekly Heritage Caucus in Olympia to confer with other cultural organizations and meet with legislators. This year’s session wrapped up on March 12, and here are a few bills we helped pass that impact historic preservation work:

Funding for the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area

The Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation received $150,000 in funding to support development of a management plan for the recently designated Maritime Washington National Heritage Area. State funds will be matched with federal dollars intended for the same purpose. With state funds in place, we are excited to begin the Management Plan this summer. The plan will establish guidelines and strategies for operation of the National Heritage Area.

HB 2868 – Allowing for extensions of the special valuation of historic property for certain properties.

Special valuation is a longstanding Washington state-specific incentive for owners of historic properties—in fact, Washington Trust advocacy efforts helped establish this program back in the 1980s! The program allows owners who rehabilitate locally designated historic resources to deduct the rehabilitation costs from the overall assessment of their property. The effect is that the assessed value of the property is reduced by the dollar value of the rehabilitation work completed. This in turn reduces the amount of property taxes owed. The special valuation is in place for 10-years following completion of the work. With this new bill, property owners can apply for two, 7-year extensions of the special valuation beyond the initial 10-year period. This is limited to properties located in cities under twenty thousand in population within counties designated by the state as distressed areas. in Governor Inslee signed this bill into law on March 18th.

HB 2405: C-PACER Program for financing resiliency in buildings

Known as the C-Pacer bill (Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy & Resiliency Financing is a bit of a mouthful!), the legislation created a program enabling owners of commercial buildings to make resiliency improvements such as energy efficiency and seismic retrofits using property tax-based financing.  It authorizes lenders to provide financing for qualifying capital improvements which are repaid through assessments on property. This method of financing means that debt for the improvements stays with the property, rather than with the owner. This incentivizes property owners to implement resiliency improvements, which generally have a long-term return period if financed through more traditional means. Governor Inslee signed this bill into law on March 18th.

HB 2601: Authorization for State Parks to enter into long term leases

This bill makes it easier for the State Parks Commission to create public-private partnerships through long-term leases on Park lands by reducing the number of commission members required for a positive vote and allowing leases of up to 80 years. At both Fort Worden and St. Edward State Park, we’ve seen the Parks Commission enter into public-private partnerships resulting in millions of dollars in capital investments to historic resources. This legislation enables the Parks Commission to more readily engage in similar partnerships at other parks, and thus take advantage of future opportunities to address deferred maintenance issues. The Washington Trust has been advocating for creative solutions for resources in state parks since we highlighted all “Historic Buildings within Washington’s State Parks” as Most Endangered Places in 2012. Governor Inslee signed this bill into law on March 25th.

HB 2837: An act relating to expanding powers granted to state historical societies

This bill authorizes both the Washington State Historical Society and the Eastern Washington State Historical Society to provide grants at their discretion to cultural and historical organizations for the following purposes: organizational capacity building; public programming; educational programming; outreach; collections management; and exhibitions.

National Legislation

In addition to working at the state level, the Washington Trust is actively involved in policy at the federal level, advocating for federal funding for preservation and closely tracking preservation related bills. Each year, we take a cohort of citizen advocates to Washington, DC to participate in National Preservation Advocacy Week and visit the offices of every member of Washington State’s Congressional Delegation on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, March 11, our group of 11 conveyed our requests to Congress, advocating strongly for many issues, but with particular emphasis on increased funding to the Historic Preservation Fund.

The Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) helps support preservation efforts throughout the country. Amongst other initiatives, it provides grants for our State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, the entities that are tasked with implementing many elements of the National Historic Preservation Act. The HPF is funded through federal offshore oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico, rather than taxpayer dollars. While in DC, we requested full funding of the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) at $150 million, broken down as follows:

  • $61 million for State Historic Preservation Offices
  • $22 million for Tribal Historic Preservation Offices
  • $28 million for Civil Rights Initiative Competitive Grants
  • $10 million for Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • $18 million for Save America’s Treasures Program
  • $10 million for Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grants (supports rehabilitation of historic properties in rural communities)
  • $1 million for Underrepresented Communities Grants

In addition to the HPF funding request, there are a few federal bills and issues we have been tracking and advocating for:

HR 2825/S 2615: Historic Tax Credit Growth and Opportunity Act of 2019

This bill would enhance the existing historic tax credit program by increasing the rate of the federal historic tax credit from 20% to 30% for smaller projects (rehabilitation expenditures not exceeding $2.5 million) and capping the credit for such projects at $750,000 for all taxable years. The bill makes more buildings eligible for tax credits by lowering the rehabilitation threshold costs. It also makes it easier for non-profits to partner with developers for purposes of participating in the program. Overall, these enhancements would make it easier for “Main Street” projects – smaller projects located in our historic downtowns across the state – to engage in rehabilitation work.

HR 1049/S 3217: National Heritage Area Act of 2019

This bill would codify the National Heritage Areas program within the National Park Service, rather than relying on individual acts of Congress to carry out the program. It would also allow for the reauthorization of several National Heritage Areas slated to sunset in the next few years.

HR 4351/S 1919: Yes In My Backyard

The bill requires certain grantees under title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 to track discriminatory land use policies in order to continue receiving funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is well-intended legislation aimed at reducing challenges that hinder the development affordable housing. The bill recognizes historic preservation as an important tool in creating affordable housing. We thank Representative Denny Heck (WA-10), prime sponsor of the bill in House or Representatives, for his work to ensure preservation is acknowledged.

National Archives Records Administration – Seattle

In January, the Federal Office of Management and Budget announced plans to close the National Archives Records Administration (NARA) Building in Seattle. The facility is home to thousands of records vital to the history of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Public access to these records became a source of major concern, especially for Northwest tribes, when the public learned they would be relocated to archive facilities in California and Missouri. In response, both of our state’s Senators and eight of the ten Washington members of the House of Representatives signed a letter opposing the move. While in Washington, DC, we specifically asked members of Congress to champion a plan to retain the records at a location in the Puget Sound region. We will be sure to keep everyone up to date as this issue progresses.

Your Advocacy

Thank you especially to all our citizen advocates who made the long trek to join us in Washington, DC, but also to all our members and friends who reach out to their elected officials on behalf of a preservation-related issue. Your advocacy encourages our leaders to prioritize cultural resources, leading to positive impacts for our collective history. We will keep you posted about the ongoing legislative issues and of course will be back in Olympia and Washington, DC again soon advocating for historic preservation!