At a forum on low income housing and homelessness prevention Friday, August 26, Sen. Maria Cantwell discussed the bill that she is co-sponsoring with Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe to extend and strengthen the affordable housing tax credit. The forum took place at the Salishan housing development in Tacoma and was attended by about 300 people who have served as leaders, volunteers or activists in the area of affordable housing and shelter. Many of the attendees represented churches that participate actively in homelessness prevention.
Sen. Cantwell lauded the success of the low income housing tax credit in providing 90% of all affordable housing. She said that 20,000 additional units will be needed in Tacoma over the next 10 years. The 630 units that have been built in Salishan are the result of this tax credit. The program is producing fewer units today, she said, because since 2008 there has been a reduced demand for the credits. It has been difficult to find private capital and projects have been stalled nationally. The problem is the fluctuation in the credit allocations with interest rates, so that the amount of the tax credits is currently too low. The program is due to expire in 2013. In introducing the extension, she and Sen. Snowe are proposing certainty in the allocation formula even if interest rates are low.
In discussing the political aspects of getting the bill passed, Sen. Cantwell sought to frame the issue in terms of job creation. She said the program could be sold as economic development and job creation in the construction industry. She said that the program produced 140,000 construction jobs in the state. Comparing the effects of public and private investment, she said that the federal government can stimulate the economy at a rate of 20 times the effectiveness of private industry. Responding to a panelist’s question about how she would overcome political opposition, she said that she asks opponents what is holding them back from voting for the proposal. She felt that pressure from constituents in favor of the extension would be the most means of getting it passed.
On related issues, she said that Washington State is 16th in the nation in foreclosures, with one home out of 781 in foreclosure in June. There are 75,000 homes in foreclosure in Pierce County.
Rachel Myers of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance said that that people who never used services before, and who had previously been donors, are now requesting services.
Lisa Wolters of the Seattle Housing Authority discussed the severe backlog in the Section 8 housing program. There are currently 50,000 Section 8 vouchers in use in Washington State. The FY2011 appropriations bill cuts staff and impacts veterans’ programs. King County recently opened up Section 8 applications for the first time in years and received 25,000 applications, from which 2500 randomly selected households will be considered.
S. Troy Christensen, who administers homeless programs in Pierce County, said that through current intake procedures, data is now available on applicants. 50% are single parents and 90% of these are single mothers. Most of their applications have not requested social services in the past.
Michael Mirra, Executive Director of the Tacoma Housing Authority, said that if this issue were food we would all recognize it as widespread malnutrition and pockets of starvation. He said that public housing serves those who often can’t find other types of housing: seniors and the disabled. He also said that for public housing to be accepted, it has to be in good shape.
Kim Herman, Executive Director of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, emphasized the need to make the allocation formula permanent and provided financial data.
Bryan Ketcham of Catholic Charities, provided a compelling perspective on affordable housing in rural areas, particularly for farm laborers. He was very concerned that the HUD counseling program received no federal funding, while people are struggling to prevent foreclosures. He said that the tax credit had less of an effect in rural areas because investors consider such development to be of greater risk. He said that a rural family of four in the state earns $25,000, whereas in King County the mean in $39,000. He said that the tax credit cannot fulfill the need in rural areas and that other programs are needed. He related the stories of specific examples of families who were able to improve their situations economically from having access to affordable housing.
Thomas Green, a veteran with an honorable medical discharge, who was homeless for almost two years, discussed how a state and federally subsidized apartment enabled him to go to college. He said that the possibility of applying for and obtaining a job while homeless was nonexistent.