A Model for Local Historic Preservation Funding: Cambridge Historical Commission’s Community Preservation Grant Programs

July 20, 2011: CPA communities often ask the Coalition for advice on providing CPA grants to private owners of significant historic buildings. The City of Cambridge has an excellent model, providing CPA funds to the Cambridge Historical Commission, for distribution through the Commission's Community Preservation Grant Programs. Hover your mouse over the photos for more project information.Cambridge Community Housing Development for affordable housing at 95-97 Pine Street. A grant of $75,000 funded the exterior renovation of this double three-decker designed by Cambridge architect William E. Clarke and constructed in 1893. Siding was removed, and the exterior details were restored to recapture the building's original appearance. Installation of high-efficiency boilers, super-insulation, and rooftop solar panels reduced energy consumption. Photo Credit: Cambridge Historical Commission

The Cambridge Historical Commission runs two separate programs that distribute CPA historic preservation funds in the form of competitive grants:

First, the Preservation Grants for Income Eligible Homeowners and Affordable Housing Agencies, are offered to low- and moderate-income homeowners, to help with the restoration of exterior features that contribute to the original appearance of individual homes.

Second, the Institutional Preservation Granting Program supports non-profit organizations that are working on projects involving the historic preservation of significant buildings.Three private residences in Cambridgeport: each received a $500,000 grant for restoration work, carried out by Just a Start, Inc., an affordable housing agency that works with the City of Cambridge. Photo credit: Cambridge Historical Commission

This innovative model for funding local preservation projects has several benefits. The program funds projects on a rolling basis, so unlike most local CPCs, the Commission can provide grants to fund projects as the need arises throughout the year. Next, the granting program saves the community from having to debate and discuss the merits of each individual distribution at Town Meeting or in the City Council. This is especially important with the Affordable Housing grant program. Rather than taking up the community’s time with a warrant article on the restoration of, for instance, ‘Mrs. Johnson’s windows’, the question of the project’s merit is left to the Historical Commission, whose staff are certainly experts on this subject. The Cambridge Historical Commission has been working since the late 1960’s to compile documentation on every building in Cambridge. With images of Mrs. Johnson’s original windows, information on who creA project of Cambridge Community Housing Development, Inc. The property received a $93K preservation grant for "renovation of the exterior of a significant Queen Anne Style three-story building designed by Cambridge architect James Fogerty and constructed in 1886". Photo Credit: Cambridge Historical Commissionated them, etc., the Cambridge community can trust that the Commission is well equipped to make decisions on these individual cases, without taking up the time of the legislative body.

Because many of the projects are protected by the regulations of the Historic or Neighborhood Conservation Districts that a large portion of the grant-funded projects reside within, Historic Preservation Deed Restrictions are not required by the Cambridge Historical Commission. However, there is a “Recapture Clause” for projects that receive Institutional Preservation grants, allowing the Commission to reclaim a time-discounted portion of the granted funds if the building is sold at a later date.