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Renovation vs. New Build and Job Creation

November 9, 2011

National Trust for Historic Preservation

Is it better to build new or rehab the old?

I just read an article in The Atlantic – Cities that hits home for me. Should our industry keep promoting newly built homes or renovating and retrofitting existing buildings? I realize that there is a substantial number of people who make their livings building new homes, and as our population grows here in Vermont, we do require housing for more people. At the same time though, there are buildings in every city that lay vacant and/or abandoned. No one likes seeing empty buildings or dilapidated homes. It not only looks bad, but it effects everyone’s property. It is harder to sell a home if it is in a neighborhood with vacant or deteriorating houses. Just think about it, would you buy a new home in a neighborhood with homes that are vacant or falling apart? Of course not. Does it really make sense to keep using up available land to build new communities?

Thirty years ago I was accepted into an apprentice program with the National Trust For Historic Preservation and for a number of reasons I declined the invitation. I knew at the time it was one of those major forks in my road of life, and I often think how my life would have been different if I had taken that path. Regardless, my strong interest and devotion in preservation remains.

Which is better for job creation?

In her article, Emily Badger describes how restoration is better for job creation. Actually repairing existing buildings creates up to 50% more jobs. She sites, “Nationally, about 41 percent of the cost of residential repair goes to labor. For new construction, that number is just 28 percent, meaning considerably more than half of any investment in a new home goes not to construction jobs, but to materials, equipment and things like trucking services”. This type of shift won’t come on it’s own, because it is somewhat of a paradigm shift. What we require is financing companies and municipal organizations to get on board and incentivize reahabilitation. Contractors that are currently building new could just as easily be renovating.

I am clear that this idea isn’t as easy as I state it here and that there are parameters that are complicated, yet what has to happen is for people to start talking out loud about what is best for  whole communities and not just individuals.

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