City Council leans toward funding preservation efforts for Philly's historic neighborhoods

UPDATED: 2:05 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphians living in designated historic neighborhoods are likely to get some help maintaining their homes. A City Council hearing on Tuesday showed broad support for a fund to subsidize the cost of keeping authentic details on certified historic homes. 

Sure, Philadelphia has plenty of historic sights, but there's much more history tucked away in neighborhoods far from tourist districts. 

Mayor Jim Kenney convened a task force more than two years ago to find ways to preserve these hidden gems. Among their recommendations are financial incentives to preserve rather than demolish. 

They suggested some existing tax rebate programs, but Councilmember Jannie Blackwell has taken it a step further.

"We thought if maybe we could create some kind of fund that would allow people to get a grant to help fix up their house, where we talk about historic districts, maybe it could be helpful," Blackwell said.

Barbara Wolf, who lives in Philadelphia's Spring Garden section, said she represents "what I consider an authentic historic neighborhood — not a Disneyland, not a Williamsburg."

However, she said the cost of maintaining a home there is higher because of the designation, and she wouldn't want to see that force out low- or moderate-income residents.

"As a city and as a community, we stay strongest where we're cohesive, we're diverse and we're stable," she said.

Wolf testified Tuesday in hearty support of creating a fund to help homeowners stay in historic areas. Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia Director Paul Steinke said it might even aid the creation of new ones.

"It would send a signal to our historic neighborhoods that we as a city really value those neighborhoods," he added.

The hearing did not settle how the fund would operate, who would qualify, or where the money would come from, but City Council members endorsed the idea and said talks were already underway to craft a bill to create a fund. 

Steinke noted a similar fund, which operated from 2006 to 2012, was considered a success and could be used as a model.