Wasco County needs jobs. We need affordable housing. We are at a crucial point where we will either choose to preserve and reuse the historic buildings that remain for our own benefit, or let them crumble and be torn down, leaving our cultural heritage and community-defining sense of place behind us.
Right now, there are two bills in the Oregon Senate that assertively address these issues.
SB 927, the Public Participation in Preservation Act, puts the decision-making about historic designation and protection in the hands of local governments, instead of using a federal program, and gives the public a voice in the process. By using a public process that involves all interested parties in these decisions, instead of just owners, we can actively work together to preserve the historic character of our community, create jobs around restoration, tourism and new businesses, create more housing, and generate less demolition waste.
SB 929, the Preservation, Housing and Seismic Safety Act, makes it possible to do the work of restoration and seismic upgrades. It uses state tax credits to provide a “Rehab Rebate” for property owners who make the improvements that keep these old, historic buildings standing, habitable, and useful. It gives funding priority to projects that create housing – such as converting vacant upper floors into apartments - and takes care of smaller communities statewide by setting aside at least 30 percent of the rebates for rural projects.
We’ve all seen what can happen when an old building is updated for modern use with an eye toward preserving its historic character. Entire downtown districts have been revitalized into thriving hubs of commerce and tourism, just look at some of the things going on to preserve historic properties in The Dalles and imagine just how much more can be done to revitalize our community! We thrive as a community when we treasure our past and make it a vital and vibrant part of our present and our future.