Local, state, and federal preservation incentive programs can result in tangible benefits to property owners. These include federal tax credits for rehabilitation of qualified historical resources, property tax abatement programs, alternative building codes, and tax deductions for preservation easements.
The following information is meant to be a helpful repository of resources. The Planning Department does not endorse or recommend any organization or program. Please speak to a financial professional about any questions you may have about local, state, or federal tax benefits.
The Mills Act is perhaps the best preservation incentive available to private property owners in San Francisco. Enacted by the State of California in 1976, the Mills Act authorizes local governments to enter into contracts with owners of privately owned historical property to insure its rehabilitation, restoration, preservation and long-term maintenance. In return, the property owner enjoys a reduction in property taxes for a given period. Mills Act contracts have the net effect of freezing the base value of the property, thereby keeping property taxes low.
Federal Tax Credits
The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program is one of the nation's most successful and cost-effective community revitalization programs. The 20% Rehabilitation Tax Credit is available for buildings that are National Historic Landmarks, listed in the National Register and that contribute to National Register Historic Districts and certain local historic districts.
State Historic Tax Credits
The California State Historic Tax Credit program was signed into law in 2019 (SB451). Like the Federal program, the State Historic Tax Credit offers incentives for investment in local economies and the rehabilitation of historic buildings that reflect the character of communities.
Tax Deduction for Preservation Easements
An easement ensures the preservation of a property's significant architectural and natural (if any) features while allowing the owner to continue to occupy and use the property subject to the provisions of the easement. A preservation easement is created by deed and is typically donated or sold to a public or private preservation organization.
State and Local Codes
Planning Code Land Use Incentives for Historic Buildings
Several sections of the Planning Code allow applicants to institute a wider array of land uses in certain historic buildings than what would otherwise be permitted in that building’s Zoning District. Processes and required entitlements vary, but generally, the proposed use must complement and support ongoing stewardship of the historic resource and must be compatible with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Specifically, see Planning Code Sections 186.3 (Non-Residential uses in Residential Districts), 210.3B (Office Uses in PDR-1-D and PDR-1-G Districts), 703.9 (various uses in Folsom NCT and Regional Commercial District), and 803.9(b) (various uses in the Eastern Neighborhoods Mixed Use Districts). To learn more about land use incentives for historic buildings, please contact the Planning Information Counter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR’s)
TDR is an effective planning tool for redirecting development away from historic properties and is useful in protecting certain historic buildings in perpetuity. Article 11 and Sections 128 and 128.1 of the Planning Code allow for the transfer of unused development rights (also called “air rights”) from designated significant and contributory buildings. Project sponsors developing certain parcels Downtown and in SoMa may purchase units of TDR and apply them to their active project to increase the parcels’ buildable square footage. As a planning tool, TDR has helped San Francisco accommodate orderly growth while preserving historic buildings and incentivizing owners of historic properties to maintain the City’s cultural resources. To learn more about the TDR program, please contact CPC.TDRprogram@sfgov.org.
State Historical Building Code (SHBC)
This alternative building code seeks to preserve historic buildings by providing equivalent life safety standards for repairs, alterations and additions to historic buildings. The SHBC allows flexibility in meeting building code requirements for rehabilitated structures. To find out if your property may qualify for the SHBC, please contact the Planning Information Counter at email@example.com
Local loans and financial assistance programs
The Mayor's Office of Housing (MOH)
The Mayor's Office of Housing may be able to assist in the rehabilitation of residential buildings, including resources for lead remediation, capital improvements, and general home repairs.
The Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD)
The Office of Economic and Workforce Development and their community partners offer technical assistance, grants, and loan products.
Code Enforcement Outreach Program (CEOP)
For the last 20 years, the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) has offered a unique program designed to improve living conditions for all tenants and improve communication between tenants and landlords. The Code Enforcement Outreach Program provides support to tenants, owners and DBI, so that the City and the community can work together to bring rental housing into code compliance.
San Francisco African American Revolving Loan Fund
Mayor London N. Breed, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), Main Street Launch, and the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce announce the launch of the inquiry form for the San Francisco African American Revolving Loan Fund. The new loan program compliments Citywide efforts to support micro-enterprises and small businesses historically underserved by private banks and other traditional sources of financing, as well as OEWD’s standing commitments to invest in the City’s historically Black neighborhoods.
San Francisco Office of Small Business
The Office of Small Business offers resources for commercial property owners and local businesses.
COVID-19 Assistance for Small businesses
San Francisco and the State of California have several programs available to assist to small business owners in response to the COVID-19 crisis. More information about these programs are available here:
National Fund for Sacred Places
Grants and resources available to assist the preservation of historic places of worship.