The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit community made huge progress during 2019 in our efforts to build support for affordable housing while at the same time working to obtain cosponsors for legislation to expand and strengthen the Housing Credit program. Last June, the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2019 (AHCIA) was reintroduced in both the Senate (S. 1703 by Senators Cantwell (D-WA) and Young (R-IN)) and the House (H.R. 3077 by Congresswoman DelBene (D-WA) and Congressman Marchant (R-TX). As I write this in March of 2020, the House version of the bill has now obtained cosponsorship of more than half the members of the House of Representatives, 221 of the 435 Representatives.
That level of congressional support is a testament both to the hard work of the affordable housing community and the seriousness of the affordable housing crisis in our nation. Indeed, in my long experience working on affordable housing policy at the federal level I have never seen such a high level of support and concern for affordable housing issues.
That is in large part due to the extent of the affordability crisis which exists across the county in every state. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, strong economic conditions produced low unemployment rates that heated up housing markets. Yet economic gains have been uneven and incomes of those at the bottom have not improved sufficiently to enable them to afford higher rents.
According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, extremely low-income renters in the U.S. face a shortage of 7 million affordable rental units. Only 36 affordable homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. This has led to more than seventy percent of the nation’s approximately 11 million extremely low-income renter households to be severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on rent and utilities. While the problem is most acute for the lowest income, the crisis is broader than that. According to the latest Harvard Joint Center on Housing Studies report, “vacancy rates are at decades-long lows, pushing up rents far faster than incomes. Both the number and share of cost-burdened renters are again on the rise, especially among middle-income households.”
Policymakers are increasingly aware of this situation and more inclined to act now than we have seen in the past. Indeed, almost every Democratic presidential primary candidate proposed robust affordable housing programs at a scale and cost that may be unprecedented. Almost all of those campaign proposals included increases in the Housing Credit program.
While the level of support for more Housing Credit resources is clearly a function of the overwhelming need for more affordable housing, it is also a testament to the sterling record we have been able to develop for the program as an effective and highly flexible means of providing affordable housing to fit diverse needs in varying geographies. The great success of the program –m serving rural, suburban and urban areas by providing housing to special needs populations, the elderly, the homeless, families and now increasingly public housing residents – gives elected officials a strong reason to support the program. This success is not by accident; it is a result of a positive role that each part of the industry plays – from housing finance agencies, to credit syndicators, developers, property managers, and industry consultants.
Each of us can be proud of the contributions we make toward making the Housing Credit program a success. But, of course, as we so often say, we cannot be satisfied with our strong record so far. We can’t assume election officials are automatically aware of how great the Housing Credit program is. We must continue to run the best program possible to serve families in need with quality affordable housing while also educating elected officials on both the overwhelming need for more resources and why the Housing Credit is a major part of the answer.