DURHAM, NH – The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension is spearheading a four-state effort that’s looking to find ways to increase the numbers of tradespeople to work in historic preservation development.
UNH Cooperative Extension economic development specialists are doing the research in collaboration with the Northeast Regional Initiative for the Preservation Trades, a partnership with the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, Maine Preservation, Preservation League of New York State and Preservation Trust of Vermont.
The initiative’s aim is to advance training and placement of historic preservation carpenters, masons, and other workers with traditional skills, to create a more robust, diverse and sustainable workforce.
A shortage of preservation tradespeople has limited maintenance, renovation, adaption for current needs and other improvements for historic and older buildings. Initiative partners said there are several factors driving the shortage – the increasing number of buildings at a critical age for repairs in the region, widespread retirement of tradespeople, and rural in-migration trends.
Historic preservation is an economic driver – developers using national Historic Preservation Tax Credits nationwide have leveraged more than $116.34 billion to preserve 47,000 properties nationwide between 1976 and 2020, according to the National Park Service, which administers the credits.
The NPS calls the tax credit program “one of the nation’s most successful and cost-effective community revitalization programs.”
But preserving older buildings – even beyond those that qualify for the tax credit program – has a ripple effect, adding to affordable housing, creating jobs and helping mitigate the climate crisis.
“Tradespeople with training in historic buildings are critical for making more older homes in the Northeast livable and safe in light of current affordable housing shortages,” the project website says. “Furthermore, preservation practices can be vital in reducing construction/demolition waste and pollution and the consumption of limited resources, positioning preservation as a valuable strategy in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and working toward climate goals.”
In Maine, which has the oldest housing stock in the nation, “We desperately need skilled workers to help care for our historic fabric,” said Tara Kelly, executive director of Maine Preservation. “It is important to understand how we can best engage folks in a rewarding career in the preservation trades.”
The project this spring undertook a background assessment of the regional preservation trades workforce, training opportunities and initiatives in the Northeast. The current phase is a survey seeking experiences and perspectives of those in the building trades and historic preservation sector that will help guide the effort. The survey, for anyone engaged with historic preservation or construction trades in New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and New York, is available through the end of July and can be accessed here.
Interviews and focus groups will follow in the fall, with a final report planned for the end of the year. The project is funded by a grant from the Moe Family Fund for Statewide and Local Partners through the National Trust for Historic Preservation.