Making the Connection: Addressing Affordable Housing with Historic Preservation

By Elly Colmers Cowan

To address the affordable housing crisis in the United States and Maryland, historic preservation can be utilized to convert existing historic structures into quality affordable housing and address some of the shortfalls that come from new construction.

According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, Maryland needs 119,000 new units of affordable housing to meet existing demand. New construction will play an important role in closing this gap but new construction alone cannot meet the need. Historic preservation should be utilized to transform already built structures in our historic neighborhoods to address the affordable housing shortage in Maryland.


New construction for affordable housing often takes place outside of established neighborhoods and in locations that can be far from commercial and job centers. Alternatively, historic buildings are generally located in neighborhoods that already have a diversity of housing styles and a mix of income ranges — making rehabilitation into affordable housing less contentious.

Historic buildings are also generally located in denser, more walkable communities making cars and their associated expenses less necessary for workforce development. In fact, over 40% of residents in older and historic neighborhoods are within five miles of work, but less that 20% of residents in new housing are that close to their place of employment.

According to an affordable housing expert at the Urban Land Institute, “In market after market, affordable housing is being built, but it’s on the fringes. Workers are being forced to move way out and this compounds the cycle of sprawl.”

The advantages of providing affordable housing in historic neighborhoods has been gathering momentum, and the amount of affordable housing units utilizing rehabilitated historic structures has begun to increase over the past decade. In fact, one in five federal Historic Tax Credit projects nationally resulted in affordable housing in FY16.


The rehabilitation of historic buildings is a proven catalyst for community and economic development including as a creator of local jobs. These benefits will continue to be associated with the redevelopment of historic buildings to accommodate affordable housing need in Maryland.

Historic tax credit announcement at the historic Isaacs & Co. building, Baltimore, 2018.

To incentivize this win-win approach, State Senator Bill Ferguson from District 46 in Baltimore, will introduce legislation during this session of Maryland General Assembly to increase the state Historic Tax Credit from 20% to 25% for projects that result in affordable housing.

Additionally, this legislation needs to be supported with appropriation and funding. The entire Maryland Historic Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit program is funded at $9 million. Senator Ferguson will also introduce legislation to increase funding of the state Historic Tax Credit to $15 million for FY20.


Preservation Maryland has been working closely with Senator Bill Ferguson in support of this historic preservation legislation including hosting an announcement at the historic Isaacs & Company project in Baltimore City.

Preservation Maryland will also bring together preservation advocates at Maryland History Advocacy Day on Thursday, February 1, 2018 in Annapolis. This is a free event and coincides with the annual awards of the Maryland Historical Trust.

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Elly Colmers Cowan · Director of Engagement

Elly Cowan is here to motivate you to get involved in historic preservation and community development by becoming an advocate with us or learning something new at one of our events.

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