Editorial: Congress should boost tax credit for affordable housing

By:  Editorial Board
Source: Seattle Times

BY the age of 6, Dennis Bateman was bouncing between foster homes. He endured abuse. As the pain mounted, he spent the next five decades coping with bad habits that eventually landed him on the streets and then in prison.

Now 62, Bateman finally has a home.

“I’m starting to see who I am,” he said last week standing outside Patrick Place Apartments in Seattle, flanked by three mayors and a U.S. senator, no less.

Bateman lives in this 71-unit building where Catholic Community Services provides an array of on-site services for people coming out of homelessness. Three years after seeking assistance, he has kicked some old addictions.

His testimonial at the news conference is a humble reminder why compassion and housing are keys to a fresh start.

Patrick Place exists in large part thanks to financing from the federal government’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. Since 1986, this program has spurred nonprofit and private developers to build more than 1,000 affordable, multifamily housing properties in Washington. That equates to about 75,000 permanently affordable units.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is now leading the charge in Congress to boost that tax credit to states by up to 50 percent of the current 9 percent cap to help people just like Bateman. Developers can apply for the funding through the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. If adopted, Washington stands to gain 35,000 more units over the next decade — about 4,200 more units than is possible under the status quo.

Cantwell’s forthcoming legislation is supported by acoalition of 1,300 housing groups nationwide. She plans to sponsor the bill with U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas.

It is worthwhile legislation. Homelessness and skyrocketing rents are problems in need of bipartisan solutions.

Competition for limited funding is so fierce, the state could only finance 17 out of 22 qualified projects last year. Communities in Burien, Yakima, Vancouver, Royal City and Connell lost out on some much-needed affordable housing.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, Everett Mayor Ray Stephenson and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray acknowledged that cities cannot deal with this crisis on their own. They have been asking for state and federal assistance for months.

If Congress does its job, some help would finally be on the way.