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The St Louis Contrarian

Providing Independent and Intelligent Insight on St. Louis Public Policy Issues

Archive for the tag “low income housing tax credits”

Segregation in Affordable Housing

The New York Times recently ran an article which was very thoroughly documented and described how Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects almost always were located in a racially segregated and economically depressed area. The city described was Houston but the facts could apply to almost any United States location. Projects located in depressed census tracts provide much worse outcomes for the residents than those that are not.(Although the sample size of projects located in higher income areas is very small). Here is a link to the article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/02/us/federal-housing-assistance-urban-racial-divides.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share

Certainly in some situations building LIHTC projects in economically deprived areas might make sense if part of a major redevelopment project. Most often, the projects are located in those areas because of NIMBYISM or developer decision making.

I am not confident these situations can ever be changed. Higher income neighborhoods will almost never support the construction of low income project in their midst.

A solution to the problem would be something I frequently recommend; an income approach to poverty which provides everyone with a guaranteed minimum income which would be used to support housing as well as other critical programs. New housing would be constructed in response to the demand created by this source of income. FHA would beef up its’ mortgage development program providing a strong vehicle for the construction of new housing. Developers using this program would need to set aside 10% of their units for affordable tenants. Direct construction subsidies would still be available for special needs housing.

We need to overcome the inertia in housing policy caused by the greed of developers of the status quo.

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Low Income Housing Tax Credits

Low income housing tax credits are the primary source of construction and rehabilitation for affordable housing projects. The program has been around since the eighties and is an effort to get private sector involvement in the affordable housing development business. The program uses the equity generated from the sale of tax credits to create low debt on affordable housing projects, thereby supporting lower rents. (This is a vast oversimplification but sufficient for this discussion.)

The program has accomplished much but has significant limitations. It is neither efficient or effective. Let me explain.

The program is not efficient for two reasons. First it is excessively complicated, involving arcane aspects of tax law, legal issues, accounting etc. It is an extremely difficult program for a newcomer to enter. Second, and related, the administrative costs are extremely high. Too much of the money does not go directly to housing but lines the pockets of developers, consultants, syndicators, accountants, attorneys, etc.

Second, the program is relatively ineffective. It does not house the low income people who need it the most. Someone must be able to pay a decent rent to afford the program. Homeless or very low income people cannot participate.

Politically this is not the best time to address the need for a new affordable housing program but the community needs it. The National Affordable Housing Trust Fund is a start but its resources are limited for now. We need a simpler more efficient and effective affordable housing program.

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