Cantwell pushes affordable housing in Vancouver visit

Senator backs effort to increase tax credits to boost construction

By:  Patty Hastings
Source: The Columbian

At Caples Terrace’s grand opening Monday, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell touted a new bill aimed at increasing tax credits that support affordable housing construction.

More than half of the funding for Caples Terrace, a 28-unit apartment complex in central Vancouver for homeless youth and youth aging out of foster care, came from 9 percent low-income housing tax credits, also known as affordable housing tax credits. The federal subsidy is the largest source of affordable housing in the United States.

The Democratic senator noted that four years ago she was part of a campaign that led to the tax credits being increased for the first time in a decade.

“Well, we clearly didn’t think that that was enough,” Cantwell told the crowd gathered in front of Caples Terrace, 505 Omaha Way. “If you don’t increase the tax credit, you’re not going to increase the amount of supply and, literally, this is a supply issue.”

In June, Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., introduced the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2019, which calls for a 50 percent increase in tax credits to help build 384,000 housing units, including 9,700 in Washington.

“As we know here in Vancouver and in Portland, this is a crisis,” Cantwell said. “No matter what we do locally, if we don’t increase the amount of credit available federally, we are not going to solve this problem.”

The Washington State Housing Finance Commission is responsible for allocating tax credits that provide a tax incentive to construct or rehabilitate affordable housing.

“The credit is our country’s most important and best tool for affordable housing that puts literally billions of dollars in private money to work for the public good,” said Lisa Vatske, the commission’s director of multifamily housing and community facilities. “Here in Washington, it has created or preserved more than 104,000 units of affordable housing over the past 30 years.”

She said a strong state economy is driving a significant population increase, leading to Washington being about 250,000 units behind to meet the growing demand. Last year, Congress agreed to temporarily expand tax credits by 12.5 percent, which greenlighted projects that otherwise would not have been funded.

Youths 18 to 24

Caples Terrace cost $8.2 million and is one of many Vancouver Housing Authority projects using multiple funding sources including tax credits. It’s the first designed specifically for youth ages 18 to 24.

“It’s a very exciting time for us at the Vancouver Housing Authority because this is a new focus for us, dealing with youth and young adults who have been homeless and need the support of housing,” said Joan Caley, vice chair of the housing authority board. “We have to understand how important stable housing is as a prerequisite for good health, educational experiences and, ultimately, self-reliance.”

Christina LaCelle will be moving into the complex in the next month. She and her 3-month-old daughter, Vivianne, have been temporarily living with LaCelle’s former foster parents in Battle Ground. The 20-year-old said she’s struggled since becoming an adult and found herself moving in and out of homes.

“I’ll be able to call this place my own and get into the groove of living on my own,” LaCelle said. “I’m just really excited.”

She plans to obtain her high school diploma and is interested in pursuing a career involving mechanics, maybe auto mechanics, as she raises her daughter.

Residents such as LaCelle will work with two full-time social workers on site, one from Janus Youth Programs and one from neighboring Bridgeview. They’ll spend no more than 35 percent of their income on rent.

Hilaree Prepula, community and social services manager at Bridgeview, said a youth forum helped inform the design of Caples Terrace and its supportive services.

“Those who have faced challenging circumstances in their adolescence will not just have safe and affordable housing but every opportunity to use that stability as a platform to become independent or, as one youth has said to me, a chance to do some real adulting,” Prepula said.