Op-ed: Keep federal housing credit to put roofs over Utahns’ heads

First Published      Last Updated Jun 12 2015 05:15 pm

Families in Utah are struggling to keep a roof overhead, threatening the health and vitality of our communities and economy. More than 60,000 low-income families in the state pay more than half their monthly income in rent, leaving little left for food, health costs and other necessities, and that number will only continue to grow unless we support the policies and programs that can end our housing crisis for good.

Stable, affordable housing has been proven to benefit residents' social, economic and physical health. And it has community-wide effects as well, as residents with more disposable income can invest in local businesses and help grow the economy. By investing in affordable housing, Utah can create jobs and boost our state's economy for the long term.

Utahns are not alone in the fight to make home affordable. Nationwide demand for affordable housing is at an all-time high as rising rents and stagnant incomes make it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. The gap between the number of extremely low-income households and the number of apartments available and affordable to them has jumped 54 percent since 2000, from 5.3 million to 8.3 million homes. And with 11 million renter households paying more than half their income in rent, the crisis is growing increasingly dire.

In order to end our affordability issues for generations to come, we must consider proactive solutions that lift up everyone burdened by housing costs — not just those who have already fallen through the cracks.

Creating enough affordable housing to maintain Utah's affordability will not be easy. In September, state and local housing officials estimated the state needed 44,000 more affordable homes just to meet the current need — and that number will only continue to grow.

Thankfully, proven tools to help boost our affordable housing stock do exist. The federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, America's main tool for creating and preserving affordable housing, enables private developers and public agencies to come together to create high-quality homes for low-income residents. The housing credit is administered by the states, meaning it can be targeted to specific local needs, which allows for the development of homes specifically for veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, families, and more.

Through the housing credit, Utah has been able to create communities like Canyon Crossing at Riverwalk, which provides 180 apartments affordable to low-income families in Midvale. By maintaining the affordability of a neighborhood that offers residents easy access to jobs and services, Canyon Crossing helps connect low-income families to economic opportunity.

The housing credit has been incredibly successful since it was signed into law by President Reagan in 1986, creating 2.7 million homes and bringing $100 billion in private capital into communities across the country. In Utah, it has produced more than 23,000 homes and supported more than 26,000 jobs. And it's boosted our economy as well, generating $2.49 billion in local income and $980 million in tax revenues that we've been able to reinvest in our communities.

In order to keep up with the demand for affordable housing options, we'll need to protect and expand the housing credit. As legislators in Congress, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, prepare tax reform recommendations, they should remember the power of the housing credit to strengthen the economy, revitalize communities and change lives—in Utah and across America.

Mike Plaizier is executive director of the Utah Center for Neighborhood Stabilization.