by Janet Kreger
Twenty-five people gathered at Muskegon’s Lakeshore Museum Center on December 4 for a discussion with Congressman Dan Kildee about new legislation he proposes to draft and introduce. Dan spoke of “Project Rebuild” that he envisions being the next generation of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) but with important differences of interest to those involved with preservation. In the room were, among others, city planners, fiscal officers, fire department staff, land bank professionals, museum staff, and representatives from the MHPN, the event’s host. Continuing well beyond the ninety-minutes scheduled, the “Roundtable” was lively and substantive.
Dan began by recapping NSP and the $7B it distributed. Project Rebuild, based on a 2013 bill introduced by Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Senator Jack Reed, would propose $10B for formula allocation, with each state receiving a minimum of $20M, and $5B for competitive allocation. Formula funding would go to states; on the competitive side, states, local governments, for-profit and non-profit entities, and consortia of these bodies could apply. Project Rebuild would allow for commercial projects and job creation capped at 30%; the use of up to 10% for jobs programs to maintain neighborhood properties; eligibility for middle-income people as well as those who are low- and moderate-income; and targeting of funds where there are abandoned and vacant properties. What was heartening is that Project Rebuild would be all about the purchase, rehabilitation, and redevelopment of properties with less emphasis on demolition.
To what does Dan attribute his perspective? He spoke about Washington’s need to recognize that the nation’s oldest cities – like his hometown of Flint and his state’s largest metropolitan area, Detroit – need help to survive. His belief is that if their distinctive characteristics, and those of small- and mid-size towns, are not conserved, they lose what makes them appealing for young professionals, older retirees, visitors, and new business – namely their traditional downtowns and older residential neighborhoods.
He and his District Chief of Staff Amy Hovey listened as the audience spoke about the need for grants and loans for strategic planning, pre-development costs, and moth-balling; small mortgages for owner-occupied residences; loan loss reserves for commercial areas; longer implementation timeframes to accommodate the complexities of older properties; and capacity building in small- and mid-sized communities. Generating the most enthusiasm was the idea of clustering these responses to the special needs of older buildings and neighborhoods so that there also could be preference shown for properties listed on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, for locally designated or eligible properties, and for Legacy Cities and communities served by successful land banks.
The audience felt that Dan has a built-in cohort among his fellow Congresspeople – both Republican and Democrat! – who have older cities in their districts. He is interested in being ready with something that is smart and inclusive for when Washington is ready. We’re interested too!