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SSeizing the Opportunity for Affordable Housing Nationwide

AHTCC's Emily Cadik says it's a critical time to advocate.

By Emily Cadik

Advocates of affordable housing have an important opportunity in today’s political climate. Despite legislative gridlock and deep partisan conflict, affordable housing has emerged as one of the few topics met with bipartisan support.

Rent is skyrocketing in nearly every corner of the United States. From rural farm regions to our densest cities in red and blue states alike, paying the rent has become increasingly burdensome. Rental rates soar as wages slowly creep, still below prerecession benchmarks in many states. As a result, over 10 million American households pay more than half their monthly income on rent. For particularly vulnerable demographics, including people with disabilities, veterans, and senior citizens, the situation can be even more dire.

And while white-hot housing markets in urban centers continue to make headlines, housing affordability challenges extend far beyond metro regions,  where rents are driven upward by scarcity and rising demand. As the crisis spans more and more of the U.S., so has the recognition among members of Congress that something must be done to address it.

A Challenge for Rural and Urban Areas Alike

According to the most recent The State of the Nation’s Housing report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, more than 25% of all rural residents are burdened by housing costs, with the rates even higher among renters. Though housing is more affordable in these communities, incomes are also much lower, and many communities continue to recover slowly from the Great Recession, with median incomes and labor participation lagging behind.

For these areas, affordable housing is a way not just to alleviate the rent burden for families, but to bring vibrancy, jobs, and redevelopment to a region still catching up with an economic resurgence in the nation’s urban centers.

Meanwhile, even people much higher up the income spectrum continue to struggle in high-cost cities, meaning the need for affordable housing for those at the lower end of the spectrum and for special-needs populations is especially severe. Despite a 47% decrease in veteran homelessness since 2010, for example, homelessness among former service members is once again on the rise.  

More affordable housing supply is clearly needed, across the board and for all types of communities and populations. And more and more policymakers are starting to see that affordable housing is not just an issue that impacts urban areas, but one that impacts every state and congressional district—and requires action.

Fortunately, a bill recently reintroduced in Congress could help meaningfully increase our ability to build and preserve affordable housing using the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC), providing relief to hundreds of thousands of Americans.

The Need to Expand and Strengthen the LIHTC

The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (AHCIA) of 2019, which would expand and strengthen the housing credit, is an even more robust piece of legislation than its previous versions. New provisions introduced this year will simplify regulations, further increase affordable housing production, and better reach rural areas, veterans, and other special-needs populations. The bill also has even broader initial bipartisan support than in previous years, showing that the advocacy and education our industry has been engaged in has had an impact.

While the bill enjoys the support of lawmakers across the nation and on both sides of the aisle, there are many new members of Congress who may be new to the issue of affordable housing. Many of them will be eager to learn about legislation that has bipartisan support and would provide tangible impacts for their constituents, but it is incumbent on us to educate them. It is also our responsibility to increase support for AHCIA as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

Though legislation like AHCIA typically does not advance on its own, there may be opportunities to attach the AHCIA to other legislation this year—perhaps in broader budget, spending, or other related must-pass legislation. These negotiations often move very quickly, so we must be prepared before they even begin.