Senator Cantwell Holds Roundtable Discussion on Affordable Housing
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) recently held a roundtable discussion in a Washington state county facing a housing crisis. Cantwell has been a strong advocate for the LIHTC program. This past spring, Cantwell worked with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and others to secure a 12.5 percent increase of the 9 percent housing credit program. It’s the first increase in more than a decade and will be spread out over the next four years. She has also introduced legislation to increase the allocation for the 4 percent tax credit program (and implement other technical fixes that, if passed, could make the program more predictable and attractive for investors.
According to Cantwell’s office, Washington state has a more severe affordable housing crisis than the rest of the country. Since 2000, median rents have risen by 7.6 percent, which is 2.5 percentage points higher than the rest of the country. In addition, there are 16 percent fewer rental homes available in Washington compared to the U.S. average. Overall, about 400,000 Washington households are paying half their monthly income toward housing.
Surveys from San Juan County, the location of the roundtable meeting, report that about half of the islands’ residents cannot afford to live in nearly 80 percent of the county’s total houses. The majority of houses are affordable for those who earn between $75,000 and $149,000 a year, which accounts for about 25 percent of the population. Affordable housing is defined by the county as equaling no more than 30 percent of an occupant’s gross monthly income.
Cantwell said the housing need for retiring seniors, returning veterans, and the homeless made politicians “pretty aware” of the national housing crisis. She said her “ah-ha” moment was when she learned that 95 percent of affordable housing built is from the LIHTC. The LIHTC program was created in 1986 and is the largest source of new affordable housing in the United States. There are about 2 million tax credit units today, and the numbers grow by around 100,000 units annually.