Preserving historic districts pays off in Miami-Dade
Written by Jesse Scheckner on November 13, 2018
Preserving historic districts isn’t just good for protecting Miami-Dade’s past for posterity’s sake; it’s also a smart financial investment, according to recent economic impact reports published by the county.
“Together these studies indicate preservation has made a positive fiscal impact on Miami-Dade and its residents,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez wrote in an accompanying Oct. 31 memo.
The two interrelated reports, whose research was conducted from June to August 2017 by PlaceEconomics principal Donovan Rypkema, examine locally designated historic districts in Miami-Dade and in Coral Gables, Homestead, Miami, Miami Beach and South Miami.
The first report, “Enhancing Paradise,” is a 53-page inventory of 28 local historic districts, including property values, growth management, tax generation, job markets, diversity, stability, transportation, natural resources, environments, community health, safety and resiliency.
Historic districts examined include Cauley Square in Miami-Dade; Little Havana, Morningside, MiMo Biscayne Boulevard and Buena Vista East in Miami; Española Way and Flamingo Park in Miami Beach; Historic Downtown Homestead; Cambridge Lawns in South Miami; and Macfarlane Homestead in Coral Gables.
The second, “Report II: Incentives, Tools and Strategies Assessment,” details the benefits of preservation incentives and provides a nine-item recommendation framework.
Only areas with single-family residences and more than eight parcels were included for statistical reliability, Mr. Rypkema wrote, and only properties within the urban development boundary were used as comparison.
“Used properly, historic preservation can increase affordable housing, preserve naturally occurring affordable housing, fight massive gentrification as it’s taking place and displacement throughout Miami-Dade County,” Christine Rupp, executive director of Dade Heritage Trust, told Miami-Dade commissioners Nov. 8 before they accepted the reports. “This study [will] provide a great roadmap for Dade Heritage Trust, working with your planning and preservation departments and department across the county to spread the word about the benefits of historic preservation and making Miami-Dade County affordable and a great place for all.”
According to “Enhancing Paradise,” while less than 2% of Miami-Dade is designated as historic, 18% of Miami Beach, 11% of Coral Gables, 2% of Miami, 1% of Homestead and 1% of South Miami land is.
Historic districts in Miami-Dade comprise 1.4% of the total land area, 3.5% of the population, 4.9% of jobs and 9% of population growth, Mr. Rypkema wrote. They are among the densest areas in the county, with population density five times that of the county as a whole and nearly 2.5 times the average density of urban areas.
Historic district residents, who demographically are a “mirror image” of the rest of the county, according to the report, were found to enjoy shorter commutes, ride transit more and, resultantly, contribute less greenhouse gases than county residents elsewhere.
The districts provide affordable housing through “a range of housing sizes with older, smaller and centrally located homes,” and the assessed value per acre of property in the areas is 3.8 times that of the rest of the county, the “Enhancing Paradise” report states.
Between 2002 and 2016, single-family houses in local historic districts increased in value 7.3% each year, compared with just 3.5% for houses in non-historic districts.
The property values performed better in up years, were less impacted during the real estate crash and recovered their values better than houses elsewhere in the county.
Foreclosure rates, Mr. Rypkema found, were half the rate of the rest of the county.
“[For] the last 15 years, homeowners in historic districts have been rewarded for their choice of where to live,” he wrote. “When the recovery finally came, it was owners in local historic districts that saw their equity return more rapidly.”
“Report II” outlines nine potential tools and strategies to further incentivize historic preservation.
“However, implementation of these strategies will require further study,” Mr. Giménez wrote.
■A mitigation fund whose fees may compensate for negative impacts to the environment or character of a community stemming from development activities.
■A Transfer of Development Rights program that could be used to encourage voluntary transfer of density away from “areas of natural or cultural significance.”
■Impact fees that could pay the costs of providing public services to new developments.
■Establishing historic districts as affordable housing through overlay zoning, a regulatory tool that creates a special zoning district, placed over an existing base zone, and identifies special provisions in addition to those in the underlying base zone.
■Loan and grant programs for retrofitting historic buildings similar to those in other large metropolitan areas, including some that target individual homebuyers and homeowners; and federal and state tax, regulatory and financial incentives to help homeowners in rehabilitate and preserve historic homes.
■Public awareness and community engagement campaigns to “help create partnerships with community groups to implement creative strategies that promote historic preservation.”
■A streamlined and flexible permitting process to help convert underused commercial and residential structures “to more productive uses.”
■An improved ad-valorem tax exemption program.
■An additional historic preservation fund.
Mr. Giménez wrote that he’d convened a Historic Preservation Working Group in October 2015, which met once monthly through March 2016 to provide recommendations on how to improve the county’s historic preservation programs.
The group, he wrote, recommended that the county identify and evaluate ways to incentivize historic preservation.
On Nov. 1, 2016, Miami-Dade commissioners adopted two resolutions, sponsored by Sally Heyman and Jean Monestime, directing Mr. Giménez’s office to assess the feasibility of creating a historic preservation mitigation fund, Transfer of Development Rights program and, using impact fees, further historic preservation.
The resolutions also authorized an agreement with Mr. Rypkema to study the economic impact of historic preservation in the county.
“[Mr. Rypkema] took our task to heart, did an incredible study,” Ms. Heyman said last week. “It is a role model, and we have a great piece of legislation to protect historic things, give tax rebates and appreciate our past and help our cities in the county [to] preserve it throughout the future.”
The report and accompanying memo can be read in full at: http://www.miamidade.gov/govaction/legistarfiles/Matters/Y2018/182623.pdf.