History helper

Program lost to the recession is expected to make a comeback next year

A law that lets cities offer tax breaks to the owners of historic buildings, in hopes of preserving their integrity, is gaining steam in Sacramento.

The Mills Act, a state incentive program that’s existed since the early 2000s, was once used to bolster Sacramento’s physical history. However, it lost its momentum during the recession when the city laid off the entirety of the Preservation Commission’s planners, the employees who managed the program.

Now that the city’s Preservation Commission director, Carson Anderson, has a small staff at his side the Mills Act is back on the table.

“The Mills Act is a tool to facilitate the rehabilitation of historic buildings,” said Sacramento historian William Burg. “The idea is that it’s better economically to have an old building that’s rehabilitated and being used then one that’s sitting vacant and decaying.”

Major California cities like San Francisco have adopted the Mills Act to great effect, and it’s a surprising to local history fans that Sacramento, with its 33 historic districts, only has the Senator Hotel utilizing the 20-to-30 percent property tax break. District 4 city councilman Steve Hansen, who lives in an 112-year-old historic building, told SN&R that he supports the Mills Act and sees it as a great opportunity to preserve the city’s rich legacy for future generations.

“This program is a benefit to buildings in distress,” Hansen pointed out. “I’m very proud of our Sacramento history, but we’ve also seen buildings obliterated by freeways and large swabs of communities of color displaced downtown. So we’re redoubling our efforts in preserving what we have left to ensure the private owners of these buildings can preserve history.”

City officials have staffing to review and accept 12 Mills Act application next year, if council chooses to move forward with the program in August. According to Burg, if the demand presents itself there’s potential for expanding in the future, which could mean less vacant buildings and more opportunities for housing and new businesses.

“The issue of revitalizing the community and reusing the building is key,” Burg said. “The building is useful for a contemporary building, whether it’s housing or commercial or offices … We have a housing shortage. There are houses that are useful, some are historic buildings and others are potentially historic buildings, but it could be really helpful to have this financial incentive to encourage that reuse.”