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Help states solve their housing problems with the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act
Housing is the engine that drives America's economy. Where you live impacts where you work, where your children can attend school, and the type of community that surrounds your family. For most of us, housing is our largest expense, and it determines nearly every other financial decision we make, including how much of our income we put away in savings and how much we're able to reinvest into the economy.
As decent rental housing becomes increasingly unaffordable in urban, suburban and rural communities across the country, people - and local economies - are feeling the pressure. In 2015, just over 11 million renter households nationwide paid more than half their income in housing costs, a number that shot up 3.7 million since 2001. Twenty-one million were cost-burdened, meaning they paid more than 30 percent of their income in rent.
This complex problem requires a complex solution, and there are important conversations to be had about income stagnation, the decline in homeownership, revitalizing local economies, and more. But beyond that, one thing is clear: we need to build more affordable housing.
More than 90 percent of affordable housing built in the United States is financed through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (Housing Credit), a program administered by the states that has helped create nearly 3 million affordable rental homes since it was signed into law in 1986.
The Housing Credit works by creating public-private partnerships that bring together private investors, nonprofits, state housing agencies and developers. Private-sector oversight limits bureaucracy and promotes accountability, since investors cannot claim credits until developments are built and occupied by income-eligible tenants. The economic returns are considerable: over the past three decades the Housing Credit has created 3.25 million jobs, brought in $310 billion in local income nationwide, and generated $122 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues.
Recognizing the need to make the Housing Credit an even more effective tool, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in Congress - Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Reps. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) and Richard Neal (D-Mass.) - have introduced the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (S.548 and H.R. 1661). This legislation would make the Housing Credit more streamlined, flexible and better able to serve hard-to-reach areas like rural and Native communities, as well as hard-to-reach populations like homeless veterans.
The Senate version of the bill would also increase the Housing Credit's allocation to the states by 50 percent over five years. Nationwide, that would translate to 1.3 million affordable homes created or preserved over the next ten years-400,000 more than under the current program. Bipartisan support for both bills continues to grow, with over 100 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle signing on.
Beyond the federal impact of the bill, its value-and that of the Housing Credit program itself-is in the power it gives individual states to solve their housing challenges. The Housing Credit is administered by state housing finance agencies, meaning states can decide for themselves where and how to create affordable homes. They can target homes created by the Housing Credit to hardworking but underpaid people like teachers and police officers; to the lowest-income families; to people who struggle with homelessness; to those with physical or mental disabilities; and more.
They can focus their efforts on urban centers, rural and Native communities, or other vulnerable areas. The Housing Credit recognizes that housing affordability issues in Wyoming are fundamentally different from those in New York, and it allows states to develop customized solutions informed by local expertise.
Many federal lawmakers have seen firsthand apartments financed by the Housing Credit in their states and districts, and have met with residents and heard how having a home they can afford has changed their lives. There are excellent examples in every district, and every policymaker should take advantage of these opportunities to understand the impact having an affordable, stable place to call home can have on families and local and state economies. And it's equally important to understand the impacts of a lack of affordable housing - impacts that are felt more each year as rents continue to rise and more communities feel the weight of the affordable housing crisis.
As Congress looks to improve our nation's tax code, now is the time to pass the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act. There is no time to waste.
Anthony J. Alfieri is the president of the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition and managing director of Tax Credit Investments at RBC Capital Markets Tax Credit Equity Group.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.