After reading recent news stories about the continued depression forecast for the home-building sector as well as criticisms of affordable housing development, I think it is important to recognize the crucial role that affordable housing development has played in the state of Maine.

Our firm is proud to have contributed to the creation of affordable housing over the past few years, including several which also involved the preservation of historic buildings.

These projects have created decent, safe, affordable housing in our downtowns, contributed to the removal of blight formerly associated with these structures, implemented remediation of environmental contamination, preserved the unique architecture of these historic buildings, promoted smart growth, and contributed to the revitalization of Maine communities.

With the downturn of the economy, private real estate development outside of affordable housing has become virtually nonexistent, creating real struggles for architectural, engineering and consulting firms, such as us, throughout the state.

We are grateful for the jobs being created and maintained from these projects, which go beyond architectural and engineering, to include construction, product manufacturing and maintenance personnel.

The federal historic preservation tax credit coupled with the state historic preservation tax credit was recently extended thanks to the forward thinking of the Maine Legislature.

These tax credits offer incentives for affordable and market-rate housing developers to redevelop the old, underutilized buildings that are located in many of Maine’s downtowns for a wide range of income producing uses, including affordable and market-rate housing. Reclaiming these old buildings, especially old industrial buildings, brings many architectural and engineering challenges.

One is the environmental legacy of its past uses, including asbestos, lead paint and other contaminants which our firm and several other firms address. Many other architectural and engineering challenges exist on these sites, including structural, mechanical, accessibility and life safety upgrades. All are essential in order to repurpose these types of old buildings.

Engineering companies like ours have contributed to the redevelopment of several key downtown structures, including the Olde Woolen Mill in North Berwick, the Mill at Saco Falls in Biddeford, Webster School in Auburn, Bates Mill in Lewiston, and the Gilman School in Waterville.

Without the layering of state and federal historic preservation tax credits on top of low income housing tax credits, these properties would still be abandoned, representing a public safety concern, an eyesore within the community and lost tax revenue for their respective towns.

Instead, they are now contributing to municipal tax rolls while providing safe, affordable housing where it is most needed, and for those who need it most.

While it is always important to keep challenging ourselves to find greater efficiencies, especially when public dollars are involved, recent discussion on the cost of affordable housing development seems to be misleading.

Redevelopment of old historic structures for affordable housing actually serves three public purposes.

First, it creates affordable housing which is much needed in the state.

Second, it preserves a historic structure that in most instances is suffering from disrepair and neglect.

Third, the redevelopment serves to revitalize downtown areas of the state that are in need of investment.

The current debate on affordable housing seems to be missing these last two public benefits, as well as considering their additional incremental costs.

These last two benefits are exactly what the Maine Legislature intended to facilitate when they passed the historic preservation tax credits.

When taking these into consideration, it is my understanding that the long-term cost of building affordable homes are in fact generally comparable to building market-rate homes, with perhaps a small premium paid for their being built to last longer and operate more efficiently so as to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Without historic preservation tax credits and recently completed affordable housing projects in Maine, our economy would be far worse off today.

Maine’s many architectural, engineering and consulting businesses that rely on this work are thankful and fortunate to have had the opportunity to support these projects, which will benefit Maine people for generations to come.

Rip Patten is a vice president and senior environmental engineer with Credere Associates, LLC.