Staving Off Decay through Loan Programs

Written by Lauren E. Mauldin

 I remember many a Saturday visiting Macon, Georgia as a child. Growing up in small-town an hour and a half away, Macon was my family’s main source for retail shopping. Situated in the suburbs, the main stores we visited were vastly separated from the historic urban core, which dates back to the early nineteenth century. Then, (and even now), Macon had a bad reputation for fostering crime-ridden inner city neighborhoods, with very little development, retail, or owner-occupied residences downtown. This negative perception of Macon was not uncommon. Everyone in the state of Georgia knew to avoid downtown Macon. Even the major interstate diverts traffic from the historic urban core thanks to a major bypass. It was as if the Department of Transportation knew that no one wanted to visit the heart of Macon, so instead the bypass created a new suburban destination that catapulted drivers to Atlanta. So, when I say I never came to downtown Macon, I literally never even drove near it. Today, I live and work downtown.

Historic Macon Foundation

The dynamic and progressive Macon of today is definitely not the Macon I grew up visiting. Thanks partly to the efforts of Historic Macon Foundation, the non-profit organization where I now work, Macon is undergoing a renaissance that continues to advance on a daily basis. Historic Macon’s mission is to “revitalize the community by preserving architecture and sharing history.” For over twenty years, Historic Macon has sought to revitalize historic neighborhoods by leveraging state historic tax credits and a vibrant revolving fund to rehabilitate historic homes within intown neighborhoods. This revitalization has resulted in over $10 million in construction investment, created over 2,000 jobs, and added nearly $9.5 million to the local tax base. Crime has significantly decreased while home ownership has steadily increased. Currently, our revitalization efforts focus on Beall’s Hill, a National Register Historic District, and our largest project to date. Incorporating historic rehabilitations and new in-fill housing, Beall’s Hill has transformed into a vibrant neighborhood (Photos).

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This early-twentieth century Shotgun is in the typical condition of properties Historic Macon acquires within the historic Beall’s Hill neighborhood. Rehabilitation on this property will begin in January 2016. (Source: Lauren Mauldin, Historic Macon Foundation)

 

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A completed rehabilitation project. Each rehab follows the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and qualify for state historic tax credits and an 8.5 year property tax freeze. (Source: Historic Macon Foundation)

As Loan Fund Manager, I see my role as reinforcing and maintaining Historic Macon’s revitalization efforts across College Hill, the oldest historic urban core comprised of over six residential neighborhoods (Map). Since we focus a lot of time and resources to Beall’s Hill, my role helps execute our mission in other historic neighborhoods.

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The College Hill Corridor is a 2 square mile area where a Strategic Master Plan and resident involvement has encouraged a more vibrant and liveable community in the heart of Macon’s historic districts. All properties within this area are eligible for a home improvement loan. (Source: College Hill Alliance)

Low-Interest Home Improvement Loan Program

I primarily market and manage Historic Macon’s low-interest loan program, which offers $5,000 and $10,000 façade and energy efficiency loans to College Hill property owners. When I interviewed for this position, I immediately thought of William Morris and the SPAB Manifesto, that conservation is “to stave off decay by daily repair.” These loans enable historic homeowners the opportunity to execute routine maintenance – exterior painting, re-roofing, and energy efficiency updates – that will not only ensure the continued preservation of a property, but most importantly, maintain neighborhood revitalization (Photos). I have no doubt that Morris would have found it ironic that I applied his logic to “new” American building stock, but I thoroughly believe it is applicable to the diverse historic built environment in Macon, Georgia.

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Before: As part of a larger rehabilitation project, a façade loan on this Colonial Revival home funded exterior painting and porch repairs. (Source: Historic Macon Foundation)

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After: The use of a façade loan enabled the transformation of this property, and subsequently made it more liveable for new generation of residents.

As conservationists, we all know that historic buildings do not have the best track record for their energy efficiency. Often, their poor energy performance and subsequent high power bills contribute to the unwillingness of owning or living in a historic building. With the energy efficiency loans, Historic Macon has funded more efficient HVAC systems, water heaters, and insulation throughout College Hill. All of these updates have significantly improved the comfort of historic homeowners, including reducing their monthly energy bills (not to mention they receive rebates from their energy providers). Many borrowers highly praise the program for its low-interest rate, and especially for the improved comfort of their home. This program is a win-win for the homeowner, historic home, and the environment.

Although Macon has significantly improved, there is still more work to do. Managing our loan programs is not my only role at Historic Macon. As with any non-profit, my hat is in multiple roles from executing our Down Payment Assistance program to overseeing our preservation easements to anything else that may arise. So, although I am not working in the traditional conservation field, I still see my role as crucial to the continued revitalization efforts and renaissance of Macon through its diverse historic neighborhoods, and thus, ensuring conservation for future generations.

 

 

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