Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: Tax Credits a Tool to Create Affordable Housing

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 @ 12:15 PM

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Recently on the editorial page of the Cape Cod Times was a letter from an Eastham resident opposing the proposed affordable housing development on the site of that town’s old driving range. I am concerned about the writer’s misunderstanding of the purpose of the housing sought for that site. The writer says, “There is something abhorrent about concentrating housing for needy people in one spot, anywhere. In cities it’s economic to create a ghetto of struggle and failure.”

I haven’t heard such strong and over-the-top language used to describe affordable housing for a long time. One wonders if the present presidential campaign has given renewed license to publicly express such attitudes. Of course, the writer does not understand who would really populate this development, but still “abhor” is a pretty strong word. Who exactly is he picturing will live there? And even the word “ghetto” hardly describes the plan that has been presented.

The proposed “affordable housing” that the developer wants to build in Eastham uses “tax credits” through the IRS which are sold to institutional investors to create equity in the project which reduces the amount of the debt on the property. The tax credits allow the rent, and this would be a rental development, to be somewhat below market in price, usually about $1,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. This “tax credit” program was an initiative started under President Reagan’s administration. Market price on the Cape for a decent two-bedroom apartment currently is between $1,200 and $1,500 a month. People who would most often rent the one-, two- or three-bedroom apartments would be seniors, couples with or without children, and singles. To be able to afford $1,000 a month plus utilities most will need to be employed.

The reason that there is a severe shortage of rental housing on the Cape is that there is no return on investment for the developer because the cost of development requires rents that are too high for people to afford. A totally privately funded rental development might have to charge $3,000 a month in rent, hardly affordable for those needing rental housing on Cape Cod.

I don’t agree with the writer that providing desperately needed housing for young working couples, singles and seniors is “abhorrent” or even would create a concentration of “needy” people. If our present economic system provided housing that met market needs, or if jobs on the Cape paid more, or if zoning more often allowed multifamily rental housing, then tax credits wouldn’t be needed.

And since our present economic system doesn’t provide decent, safe and affordable housing, which we all need to thrive, then reasonable, well-informed and thoughtful people will figure out a way to support efforts that are appropriate to their town. And in my experience many people do.