Richard Goldstein is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC). His knowledge is the sort that comes from being one of the program’s original proponents, pushing for its establishment when it was nothing more than a fledgling idea. It’s the hardscrabble type of knowledge that comes from defending the program every time it’s been at risk. And, it’s the business kind of know-how that stems from working on LIHTC deals day in and day out.
Goldstein walks the walk—an attorney equally skilled at the policy and business sides of the business. If a stranger at a cocktail party asks Goldstein what he does, he might give a brief description about the financing of affordable housing. If the stranger still has a quizzical look, Goldstein sums it up, saying his business is a way “to do well and do good at the same time.”
It seems he was meant to be in this field, but it took a couple of different roads to get here.
“I was a child of the ’60s,” says Goldstein, a partner in the Tax Credit Finance and Syndication Group of the Nixon Peabody firm. “I went to law school, and I was going to change the world.”
Goldstein, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., began his career as a public defender in Boston, handling appeals for people who had been convicted and were serving long prison sentences.
While in Boston, he also became involved in Barney Frank’s first campaign for Congress. When Frank was elected in 1980, Goldstein went to work for the Massachusetts representative for the first five years he served in Congress. During part of this time, Goldstein focused on affordable housing issues and was counsel to a subcommittee that performed oversight of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This experience caught the attention of Chuck Edson, one of the founders of the Lane and Edson law firm, which represented a number of syndicators investing in affordable housing even before the LIHTC program. He hired Goldstein to lobby for the group.
“We knew there was a big battle coming on tax reform,” Edson says. “We needed someone with good Hill experience. That’s why we brought Rick aboard. He spent the next two years lobbying for housing.”
Fighting for the LIHTC program
Goldstein and Edson were quick to see the potential in a housing tax credit, a new idea that was presented to them by staffers of Sen. Bob Packwood, who was then chair of the Finance Committee.
“No one really had done investing using a tax credit before of this nature, particularly for affordable housing,” recalls Goldstein. “We were on the ground floor helping to create the program that exists today.”
He was on Capitol Hill almost every day, carrying the message that the LIHTC program was needed and would work if given a chance, according to Edson.
Goldstein also worked to sharpen the program details. When it was first proposed, the housing credit was loaded down with restrictions and could not be used with other key housing programs, like Sec. 8. “We had to convince Congress if they did that, the program would never be used,” he says. “There was going to be a need to combine the housing credit with other funds.”
His involvement didn’t end once the program was established as part of Sec. 42 of the Internal Revenue Code. Although the LIHTC is widely considered the nation’s most successful housing program, it has faced a number of tough battles over the years, and Goldstein has been one of its most steadfast defenders.
This includes working to make the LIHTC permanent in 1993 and defeating a very serious threat that came in 2003 when the Bush administration proposed eliminating taxes on corporate stock dividends, a move that could have jeopardized the program. More recently, Goldstein was instrumental in winning increased flexibility for the program through the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. He’s also helped prepare the affordable housing industry’s response to recent tax reform proposals.
“There is always something to be concerned with,” Goldstein says. “We can’t ever get complacent.”
That’s why he continues to educate members of Congress and others about the housing tax credit program.
The legislative work is only one side of Goldstein’s efforts. Despite its early work on Capitol Hill, Lane and Edson wasn’t a lobbying firm. Goldstein recognized that if he was going to have a long and successful career, he needed to learn how to do transactions, so he began working with clients on their LIHTC deals.
His transactional work has continued at the Washington, D.C., office of Nixon Peabody. He’s helped structure hundreds of deals and represented syndicators, investors, and developers. He credits the firm, and particularly those in his practice group, including Jeff Lesk and Herb Stevens, for the success he has enjoyed.
Goldstein remains an overall industry leader. He’s been part of the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition since its start, in 1988, and continues to serve as its general counsel.
“I don’t think there’s a better practitioner in the country dealing with Sec. 42 than Rick,” says Jim Miller, the Coalition’s legislative counsel and president of Tax Legislative Solutions. “He’s a true expert on Sec. 42.”
Goldstein’s words—often extolling the public–private partnership aspects of the program—carry the gravitas that comes with historical knowledge and practical experience, says Miller.
Goldstein and his wife, Helane, have two adult daughters, Abby and Lily.
“I haven’t lost the idealism of the ’60s in a lot of ways,” Goldstein says. “I like what I do. The end product is affordable housing that helps transform the lives of the residents. It’s creating something good for society.”