Good news in the fight for affordable housing

By:  The Seattle Times editorial board
Source: The Seattle Times

Small victories in housing affordability are important reminders that progress is possible in this seemingly intractable fight.

Two recent articles from the Times’ Project Homeless provide examples, highlighting effective actions that should lead to constructive change.

First is the news that South King Housing and Homelessness Partners (SKHHP) is ramping up efforts to address housing affordability and homelessness in Auburn, Burien, Covington, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, Normandy Park, Renton and Tukwila.

Much like A Regional Coalition for Housing in East King County, SKHHP will amplify the subregion’s efforts to ensure residents’ access to safe, decent, affordable housing. It is an important step in developing a truly regional and effective response to the shared crisis of housing stability and homelessness.

The group is encouraging its respective city governments to take advantage of new legislation that allows cities and counties to retain a greater portion of sales-tax revenue to invest in affordable housing, and to pool those resources for maximum impact. HB 1406, which took effect on July 28, could yield more than $1 million annually from the nine-city area without adding to consumers’ tax bills. City and King County councils should adopt the necessary legislation so that initial revenues will be available as early as this fall.

The second development worth celebrating are the bipartisan housing tax credit bills sponsored by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, which would boost funding of the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit — the federal government’s primary incentive for development of affordable rental housing.

The credits are allocated to state housing finance authorities, which issue them to developers of qualifying projects in a competitive process. The developers are able to use or sell the credits to investors in return for equity in the projects, which reduces financing costs. The government spends nearly $10 billion on the credit program annually. The bipartisan proposals seek to increase state housing credit allocations by 50 percent over five years, a move the lawmakers say would spur construction of more than 9,700 new affordable housing units in Washington over the next decade. Another provision in the bills would establish a minimum rate for the 4% credit, which lawmakers say also will encourage affordable housing development.

Other proposed changes would increase credits for housing for extremely low-income and special-needs populations, including formerly homeless veterans.

The proposals have been met with enthusiastic support by affordable-housing advocates, agencies and industry partners across the country — not least here in Washington, where nearly half the state’s renters are spending more than 30% of their household income on housing, according to the state’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board. An estimated 156,000 households are cost burdened in King County alone.

These two developments, welcome as they are, will only begin to address the gaping need for affordable housing in our region. Still, they show the promise of progress and the importance of sustained dedication to the cause.