Last month, the United States Conference of Mayors passed a resolution in support of expanding the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, and calling for increased investment in our nation’s critical affordable housing infrastructure. This acknowledgment of the importance of housing programs by local leaders should not go unnoticed by the U.S. Congress.
As public officials from two very different places – New York City and Des Moines – we are united by the shared need for safe and affordable housing in our communities. Our Mayors co-sponsored the Housing Credit resolution to underscore the growing shortage of affordable housing in our cities, and in towns and rural areas across the country. We come together today to call upon our congressional leaders to protect and expand federal housing programs.
The affordable housing crisis is a bipartisan issue that transcends geography. A recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found only 12 counties nationwide where a minimum wage worker can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. Nationally, one in four renter households pay more than half of their income on housing costs, leaving more than 11 million families one paycheck away from homelessness.
The negative impacts of housing instability and poor housing quality on families are well- documented. Children’s school performance suffers, the risks of asthma and type II diabetes increase, and families are too often forced to forego other essential expenses, including medicine and healthy food, just so they can make rent.
Ongoing trends in the rental housing market further perpetuate the housing crisis. As an increasing number of Americans look for rental housing, the shortage in supply drives up rents. Meanwhile, wages haven’t kept pace. To reverse this tide, we need to build more housing that is affordable to our nation’s workforce. To do that, we must protect and expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.
The Housing Credit is one of the longest-standing public-private partnerships in our nation’s history and continues to be incredibly successful. By offering tax credits to affordable housing developers partnering with investors, this program finances nearly 90 percent of all affordable rental housing in the United States. There is also a critical connection between housing and the economy as a whole. In addition to the fact that workers need homes they can afford near their work, the Housing Credit supports 96,000 jobs every year in the construction and property maintenance industries. New housing is often accompanied by the introduction of commercial and retail space, which bring a variety of employment opportunities into communities.
Right now, there is bipartisan legislation in both houses of Congress to protect and expand this critical resource. The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act would make changes to the program, such as streamlining the formula that determines how much Housing Credit equity can go into developments, allowing income averaging in order to reach families at a wider range of income levels, and protecting the use of tax-exempt private activity bonds for affordable housing. The Senate version of this bill would also increase the Housing Credit by 50 percent, which would mark the first meaningful expansion of affordable housing resources in decades. All of these changes would result in the creation of more affordable housing for Americans who need it most.
As Congress continues with federal budget negotiations, it is critical to note the importance of funding for affordable housing programs of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture. Without adequate funds for public housing, rental assistance, HOME Investment Partnerships, rural development and Community Development Block Grants, we cannot fully address housing needs across this country. In fact, these programs serve as an essential complement to the Housing Credit, as most affordable housing is financed through a combination of HUD program resources and credits.
Some may say we can’t afford to invest in housing, but the truth is we can’t afford not to. Housing isn’t just tied to the health and well-being of individual people. It is connected to the productivity and strength of our communities. If we want to spur economic growth, create jobs, and connect Americans to opportunity, we must start with strategic investments in affordable housing. We applaud the U.S. Conference of Mayors for supporting the Housing Credit and other housing programs. At a time when the need for affordable housing is overwhelming, and the will to act on the local level has never been greater, we urge Congress to join us in standing behind these programs.
Eric Enderlin is President of New York City’s Housing Development Corporation, the nation’s largest municipal Housing Finance Agency. Christine Hensley serves on the Des Moines City Council and is on the Board of Directors for Midwest Housing Equity Corporation, a nonprofit Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Syndicator.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.