Willamette Week Special Assesment Program Story

Here’s my reply, also posted to the Willamette Week website, on Nick Jaquiss’s story “Will Portland extend a tax break for homeowners?” received by those of us on the State Historic Preservation Office Special Assesment program for historic houses:

I can clearly see the point of your article but you’ve made the program out to be a scam for the rich.

We purchased the 1902 William L. Brewster House on NW Lovejoy in September from a family that had owned it since the 1940s. The house is a “contributing property” to the Alphabet District but was not a part of the tax abatement program when we bought it. The program was a major factor in us being able to afford the purchase and the substantial remodel that is still currently underway. The seller sold to us, at a lower price than another offer, because we were going to save the home. The other buyer was going to tear it down and build condos; a much more profitable option. So I’d have to, respectfully, disagree with Jeff Merkley when he says that the program has not saved a historic home. The decision between teardown and restoring was close.

You state:

“All that’s needed to qualify for the freeze is to pay an application fee of one-third of 1 percent of the property’s real market value, file a maintenance plan, and hold an annual public open house.”

Our application was about 40 pages detailing how we are preserving, restoring and improving the house. We have ongoing communication with the State Historic Preservation Office as the project progresses. I probably spent close to 80 hours putting it together and my wife has spent about that much time again going through Portland’s Design Review process. The majority of our exterior work is stalled while we go through the permit process that was started in September.

Filing a maintenance plan also means carrying it out. The program prevents all of us who are a part of the program from just doing what we want or choosing the cheapest option. We are trying our hardest to do what is best for the property while making it a comfortable home to live in. Just because it made sense in 1902 and through subsequent remodels does not make for a comfortable home today. The program allows for the assessment of previously abated taxes for failing to follow through. Enforcement of that, I cannot speak to.

The program is doing for us what it was designed to do. If it is being abused by others, that is your real story, not just a generalization that we are all in it for a “tax holiday.”

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