A House for a Buck—and a far bigger impact

by Erin Hanafin Berg, Field Representative

August 24, 2009

The Saint Paul Pioneer Press reported today that eleven houses in the Dayton’s Bluff area of Saint Paul are for sale, some for as little as $1. That’s right, one measly dollar. But the houses come with strings attached, in that the buyers must demonstrate that they have the financial ability and renovation experience to successfully rehab the homes. The houses are owned by the Saint Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which will only sell the houses to “buyers who demonstrate they can finance repairs that could cost anywhere from $140,000 to $190,000. Buyers must explain how they will do the work and agree to make fixes that satisfy city rules and historic preservation guidelines for the neighborhood.”

The article outlines several reasons why this is a great plan—the rehabilitation of these houses, which must be owner-occupied, will stabilize the neighborhood and increase property values. The resulting private investment could reach as high as $1.7 million, according to the article. What isn’t mentioned is the “multiplier effect” that these renovations could have. Provided that the rehabilitation work is done by hired contractors, carpenters, and tradespeople—rather than by do-it-yourselvers—the program could serve as a small-scale, privately-financed economic stimulus. To paraphrase Donovan Rypkema, the well-known preservation economist, a sheet of drywall doesn’t tip his barber, but a restoration carpenter stops on his way home to get a haircut, buys groceries or takes his family out to eat, goes to the movies. . . . The money that is put into renovating these houses will not only stabilize the neighborhood, it will be spent on local goods and services and will, in turn, help stabilize our local economy.

These houses have been a project of our local partner, Historic Saint Paul. Six of the 4th Street Preservation Project homes will be on display during an open house from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, August 25. The other five will be open from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, August 27.

Read more about Distressed Urban Neighborhoods, one of the Alliance’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2009, on our Programs page. And send your comments to PAMfieldnotes@gmail.com

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