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Not every old building is worth saving
On the price of a new Kia, the value of an old house, and what's worth subsidizing
A dilapidated house in Des Moines, built in 1890, is up for sale with a sticker price of $47,000. It's listed with this promise: "With the available tax credits, tax abatement, and grants, this property can be affordable."
■ The current assessment on the property is $56,600, of which $25,200 is in the land alone. The building itself is assessed at no more than the value of a new Kia Sorento. And that's just the gross assessment: There's plainly a money pit inside the four walls.
■ Communities really should ask themselves: Are we better off giving people lots of incentives to rehabilitate a house like this, instead of incentivizing someone to demolish it and build a creative, brand-new narrow-lot residence in its place? The existing house is just 16' wide, on a 25' x 125' lot. But small can be beautiful, if approached with creativity.
■ Look, for instance, at the Pfanner House in Chicago, built on an even smaller lot (24.5' x 79'). While it's not conventionally beautiful from the exterior, it's also not offensive. To be sure, it's not bringing down the neighborhood. On the inside, though, it's probably twenty times better than rehabilitating a shabby old house for a similar amount of money.
■ Some old construction certainly is worth reviving and reclaiming from the clutches of decay and entropy. But Americans have to remain proud that we know when to knock over the old and build the new. Old houses have hazards like lead pipes and asbestos. New ones don't. Sometimes "historic preservation" is a worthwhile investment. Other times, it's best to make like a Disney princess and let it go.