Our elected leaders on both sides of the political aisle are going to have a lot to say about President Obama’s proposed federal budget in the weeks and months ahead. But one area is likely to continue escaping attention in the wake of the proposal’s release: the availability of affordable rental housing.

The president’s budget request would increase funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development – the agency tasked with providing American housing options and assisting community development – by $4 billion, or 8.7 percent, above current levels. The casual observer might assume the lion’s share of this increase will go to helping more Americans buy their own homes. On the contrary, the majority of the hike will go to fund programs that help renters afford to put a roof over their head.

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Regardless of which side of the budget debate you fall on, it’s hard to ignore the fact that America sits on the cusp of a rental affordability crisis. After a decades-long trend that favored homeownership, the share of renters has climbed from 31 percent in 2004 to about 35 percent today, driven in part by the recent recession, foreclosures and living patterns among younger adults.

This wouldn’t be a problem if we had ample, affordable housing options for renters, but the facts clearly indicate otherwise. Even after a whopping 47 percent increase in completed apartment construction in the 12 months ended last June, the amount of affordable rental housing options still falls woefully short of what is needed. In fact, low-income or subsidized rental housing is accounting for a shrinking share of total apartment construction when it should be rising. Little wonder that the number of “worst case” housing needs – defined by HUD as renters with incomes below 50 percent of area median income and who pay more than one-half of their income for rent – is still 49 percent greater than in 2003.

These figures would paint a much bleaker picture were it not for HUD’s efforts to provide more rental housing to those who are struggling. The agency’s main tool for boosting the affordable housing supply is the mortgage insurance it provides to borrowers through its multifamily programs, which are dedicated to apartment projects and other properties with multiple dwellings. Since the turn of the century, HUD has provided financing support for more than $100 billion in multifamily mortgages that helped owners build, refinance, rehabilitate or acquire apartment properties. This was accomplished with little to no cost to the taxpayer, as the fees HUD charges on such transactions cover the costs of the programs and even return money to the Treasury.

In recent years, HUD officials have devised a number of other innovative ways to support their affordability mission. In 2012, it introduced a pilot program for streamlining financing for apartment projects backed by low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs). Last year, HUD unveiled its Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program to help public housing agencies offload the financial burden of preserving and updating affordable housing to private developers and investors.

A recent RAD deal Love Funding helped finance in Illinois through HUD illustrates the impact such programs have on local communities. Late last year, Love Funding secured $6.75 million in financing for the Housing Authority of Elgin to substantially renovate an existing 11-story building and build a new six-story structure next door. The financing, which was supplemented with 9 percent LIHTCs and Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credit funds, is helping to not only preserve 104 affordable units, but to convert these former efficiencies into one-bedrooms and add another 60 units.

Without this level of assistance, these kinds of subsidized units are at risk of leaving the affordable housing supply and being converted to rents at market rates that many can’t afford. With more than a million LIHTC-backed apartment properties coming off their existing contracts and eligible to leave the affordable housing stock by 2020, the stakes couldn’t be higher. We can argue over how much additional financial support HUD needs to fulfill its important affordability mission, but we can’t contest that the need is great.  

Dellonte is president and CEO of Love Funding, a HUD lender with clients across the country.