It’s been a rough year. In just the past few months, we witnessed a series of hurricanes blow apart Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and other parts of the Southeast. We then had devastating fires sweep through California, destroying thousands and thousands of homes. In Santa Rosa alone, roughly 6,700 homes and businesses were lost in the flames, an estimated 5% of the city’s entire housing stock. It’s a staggering loss for the individual families that have been affected as well as the larger community, an already tight housing market.
It’s hard to find any kind of silver linings in these catastrophes, but if there is one, it’s that we have the tools needed to recover.
Twelve years ago, lawmakers leveraged the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program to rebuild needed affordable housing in Louisiana, Mississippi, and other areas after they were struck by Hurricane Katrina and other storms. Congress increased the amount of LIHTCs available in these regions to spur billions of dollars in investment so housing could be rebuilt.
Today, the LIHTC program is needed more than ever. This time, it can help Houston, San Juan, and Santa Rosa rise from the stormwaters and the ashes. Following hurricanes Irma and Maria in September, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) on Oct. 3 introduced the National Disaster Tax Relief Act (S. 1907). The legislation seeks to increase the amount of LIHTCs by 50% for the next five years to help rebuild housing in the disaster areas.
But the housing credit can’t do it alone. The Community Development Block Grant and other programs are needed as well, but the LIHTC can be one of the foundations for the rebuilding efforts. It’s been used before, and it can be used again if Congress authorizes additional housing tax credits.
When the LIHTC isn’t being called on to aid communities after a disaster, it still does a yeoman’s work, helping finance homes for low-income working families, seniors, veterans, young adults aging out of foster care, and special-needs residents.
The December issue of AHF highlights the LIHTC program’s versatility by spotlighting several innovative housing tax credit developments in different states. It’s an opportunity to see what the 31-year-old federal program does each year on the ground, on the streets.
In addition to Nelson’s proposal to increase LIHTCs for the areas hit by the recent hurricanes, there are bipartisan bills in the House and Senate aimed at expanding the overall housing credit program so it can be even more productive and efficient.
Hurricanes and fires are tragic, but the lack of affordable housing in the nation is a disaster on its own.
More than 11.4 million extremely low-income renter households, those whose income is at or below either the poverty guideline or 30% of their area median income, whichever is higher, face a shortage of 7.4 million affordable and available rental homes, reports the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The problem stretches from east to west, north to south. Extremely low-income renters face a shortage of affordable and available rental homes in every major metropolitan area, and the problem is getting worse. It can get better. The affordable housing industry knows how to rebuild after fires and hurricanes. It knows how to end homelessness. But it needs additional resources to build housing.