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Op-ed: Cantwell-Hatch bill would bring more affordable homes to Utah

First Published      Last Updated Mar 26 2017 04:04 pm

As the new administration in looks to spur economic growth and infrastructure spending, the Cantwell-Hatch Bill (S.548) would not only create jobs — but also would create or preserve approximately 1.3 million affordable homes over a 10-year period.

One of the most significant challenges for individuals and families experiencing homelessness is the short supply of affordable housing. Roughly one in four renters spend over half their income on rent, leaving very little money left over for necessary expenses like transportation, food and medical care.

There is a massive supply shortage of affordable housing units in Utah. According to the state's first Affordable Housing Assessment Plan, released in January 2017, there is currently a shortage of 38,000 affordable dwelling units in Utah. In 2015, the Urban Institute estimated that Salt Lake County only had 17.9 affordable units for every 100 extremely low-income renter households.




The term "affordable housing" can be a misnomer for many people. At first blush, some think of dilapidated, inner-city, concrete, bunker-like "projects" as affordable housing. These same people might be surprised to know that the American Institute of Architects issues annual design awards for cutting-edge affordable housing projects. Similarly, the data support the fact that affordable housing has no negative impact on surrounding home values.

The phrase "affordable housing" covers a wide range of household and personal incomes. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, "very low income" is a four-person household with an income less than 50 percent of the local area median family income. In Salt Lake County, for example, this would equate to $36,100 annual gross income. To put that number in perspective, starting salaries for school teachers in Salt Lake City are not much higher.

Since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is responsible for financing nearly 3 million affordable apartments — providing roughly 6.7 million low-income families, seniors, veterans and the disabled with homes they can afford. In addition to the human benefits of shelter, safety and dignity, the effects of affordable housing ripple through the criminal justice, health care and education systems.

Aside from the altruistic benefits of LIHTC, the economic and tax benefits of this affordable housing program are tremendous. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the LIHTC program has generate $310 billion in local income and $122 billion in tax revenues, and has supported approximately 3.25 million jobs over the last 30 years.

Bill Knowlton is general counsel for Parley's Partners in South Salt Lake.

 

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