IRVINE, CALIF.—WILFRED COOPER SR. was working in the aerospace industry in the late 1960s when North American Rockwell Corp. asked him to chair a task force on factory-built housing.
Rockwell leaders, who were looking for new product lines, passed on getting into housing on a direct basis but became interested in the tax incentives generated by affordable housing. Cooper's early research became his introduction to the business and the start of a long and accomplished career in the field.
He was soon inspired to launch his own company at a time when most people had never even heard of affordable housing. A leading lowincome housing tax credit (LIHTC) syndicator, WNC & Associates, Inc., celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
“Owning a profitable family business and providing decent, safe, and affordable rental housing to those in need nationwide has been my way of giving back to the community," Cooper says.
Through the years, he has fought to establish and improve the housing tax credit, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), and the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC).
“He has a very strong commitment to the industry, more than anyone else I've come across,” says his son, Will Cooper Jr., who joined the firm in 1988 and is now president and CEO. “That commitment has been something that I've realized is important to be successful in this business. It permeates throughout our organization."
Cooper Sr., 80, remains chairman of the board and continues to lobby on behalf of the industry. He has testified before congressional committees on housing issues and worked behind the scenes. Whenever he visits Washington, D.C., for WNC or other business, he schedules an extra day to meet with key members of Congress to build support for the LIHTC program.
He's held many roles in the industry, including trustee of the NAHB BUILDPolitical Action Committee.
Cooper has been involved with the housing tax credit from the very beginning. Once the program was established, WNC was quick to assist developers in structuring deals. The firm closed 22 acquisitions in the first year.
One of Cooper's proudest accomplishments came in 2008 when he helped successfully lobby for investments in LIHTCs, historic rehab tax credits, and tax-exempt housing bonds to be exempt from the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Cooper had been pushing for AMT relief for years, understanding that it was an increasingly important issue for investors.
On the CRA front, Cooper fought to allow LIHTC investments to be used to fulfill CRA obligations, and he continues to call for changes that would make the law more beneficial to the nation's rural areas.
His company has also shown its pioneering spirit through its advocacy and early use of NMTCs for community development. WNC has received four allocations of NMTCs, totaling $178 million. Its most recent award was $53 million last year, which will be used to offer flexible terms and below-market rates to borrowers and invest in community facilities that provide social and human services to lowincome persons.
While other firms have come and gone, WNC continues to grow. The firm has closed more than 50 institutional funds, and its portfolio stands at more than 1,050 properties in 45 states.