Cantwell, DelBene, Bipartisan Colleagues Introduce New Legislation to Combat Affordable Housing Crisis

In WA, bill would build nearly 10,000 new affordable housing units, provide more than 11,000 jobs & generate more than $1 billion in economic activity; Strengthened tax credit supports affordable housing for rural communities, Indian Country, students, veterans, homeless youth, and more

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Washington state and the country continue to grapple with an affordable housing and homelessness crisis, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene (WA-01) today introduced legislation to increase investment in affordable housing and provide more resources and stronger protections for at-risk groups. 

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Spokane or Walla Walla, whether you’re in Yakima or Vancouver, we have a housing crisis in the state of Washington,” said Senator Cantwell in a speech on the Senate floor today. “We know that this challenge of moving forward on affordable housing is something that is a bipartisan issue. The tax credit has had bipartisan support for many years in the United States Congress. We just need to put the pedal to the metal and provide more of the tax credit so we can get more affordable housing built in the United States of America.” 

“Since 1986, housing credits have financed over three million affordable rental-housing units for roughly 7.4 million hardworking families, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities. But in many parts of Washington state and across the country, people are struggling to put a roof over their heads,” said Congresswoman Suzan DelBene. “The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act will help lift families out of dire situations and give them a chance to enter the middle class and not look back. I’m honored to team up with Senator Cantwell on this legislation and will work hard to get this bill passed so we can ensure every American has a safe, affordable place to call home.” 

The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2019 would expand and strengthen the Affordable Housing Tax Credit (also known as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit) to produce more units of affordable housing and better serve a number of at-risk and underserved communities. 

Overall, the Cantwell-DelBene bill would help build more than 9,700 new affordable housing units in Washington over ten years, in addition to the hundreds of units built each year through the program. The bill will also provide more than 11,000 jobs and add over $1 billion to the Washington economy in wages and business income. 

In recent years, Washington state has experienced a severe housing affordability crisis. Between 2006 and 2015, the median income in the state increased three percent, but the median rent increased by 18%. More than 450,000 households – or nearly 17% of all households in the state – spend more than 30% of their monthly income on rent, and nearly 220,000 of these households pay more than half of their monthly income. These statistics are even more drastic among extremely low-income renters in the state – 71% pay more half or more of their monthly income on rent. 

“The Affordable Housing Credit is our state’s most valuable resource for creating and sustaining affordable apartments,” said Kim Herman, executive director of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, which allocates the credit to developers. “It works in every kind of community and for every kind of household, from seniors to the homeless to working families. We are so proud that our Washington state members of Congress are leading the way to expand and enhance this critical program.” 

Across the United States, the expanded Affordable Housing Tax Credit would produce roughly 1.9 million new affordable housing units over the next decade, an increase of more than 550,000 units more than would be built without the legislation. The bill increases the total number of affordable housing units built by: 

  • Increasing the amount of credits allocated to each state by 50% over current levels, resulting in the production of more than 384,000 more affordable homes in the next 10 years than would otherwise be created; and,
  • Stabilizing the value of the 4% Affordable Housing Tax Credit – which is used for new construction that uses additional subsidies or the acquisition cost of existing buildings. This will create more certainty for ongoing and new projects and increase affordable housing production by more than 66,000 units.
  • Expanding and reforming “recycling” of multifamily housing bonds, allowing states to maximize the available resources of private activity bonds by recycling multifamily bonds for affordable housing, resulting in 100,000 additional affordable housing units. 

In addition to expanding the number of affordable homes built in the United States, the legislation makes a number of key reforms to strengthen the Affordable Housing Tax Credit. These reforms will: 

  • Create veteran-specific housing options. The legislation stipulates that the Affordable Housing Tax Credit can be used to support housing for veterans.
  • Better target extremely low-income populations. The legislations increases, by 50%, the amount of credits available to developments serving extremely low-income populations or those with special needs, such as formerly homeless veterans.
  • Boost affordable housing in Indian Country. The legislation classifies projects in Indian Country as Difficult to Develop Area, increasing the amount of credits available to affordable housing projects in these areas. The legislation also requires states to consider the needs of their Native American communities by establishing new selection criteria for projects.
  • Boost affordable housing to rural communities. The legislation gives states the ability to increase the amount of credits available to projects in rural areas.
  • Protect victims of domestic violence and stalking. The legislation will bring all properties built using the Affordable Housing Tax Credit in line with Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) standards to better protect victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
  • Opens affordable housing properties to more low-income students. The legislations simplifies current rules to ensure non-traditional students, such as single parents, veterans, formerly homeless youth, and domestic violence survivors, have access to affordable housing properties. Previously the rule was overly complex and differed from other HUD-finance housing rules. 

Since its creation 30 years ago, the Affordable Housing Tax Credit has built or rehabilitated more than 3.2 million affordable housing units, leveraging more than $190 billion in private investment to do so. During that time, the credit has been responsible for nearly 90 percent of all federally-funded affordable housing. Between 1986-2013, more than 13.3 million people lived in homes financed by the Affordable Housing Tax Credit. 

Here’s how many units of affordable housing the Affordable Housing Tax Credit has built in each county since the tax credit was created in 1986.

In addition to Cantwell and DelBene, U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Todd Young (R-IN) and U.S. Representatives Kenny Marchant (R, TX-24), Don Beyer (D, VA-08), and Jackie Walorski (R, IN-02) are also sponsors of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2019.