Fund the housing credit to make rent affordable

In this Wednesday, July 30, 2014 photograph, a builder works on the construction of new homes in Belmar, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

As more people flock to South Carolina because of the low cost of living and abundant economic opportunities, demand for housing and services is outpacing available resources. And for a growing sector of our population, prices are quickly rising out of reach.

In fact, South Carolina is in the midst of a growing affordable housing crisis. Last year, it was estimated that nearly 40,000 renters in the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester area alone were paying more than 30 percent of their income in housing, the accepted measure of affordability. To keep our growing workforce adequately housed, we need more private dollars to help create and preserve affordable housing.

A proven way to help address the growing housing affordability crisis is to protect and strengthen America’s and South Carolina’s main tool for building and preserving affordable housing for hardworking families, veterans, people with disabilities, seniors, homeless individuals and others in need: the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

As the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, including Sen. Tim Scott, and its tax reform working groups prepare recommendations, it’s important for every South Carolinian and member of Congress to remember what the housing credit means to constituents, communities and our country.

The housing credit enables development partners to come together to create communities like the newly completed Harbour Station Apartments in North Charleston, which contains 56 affordable apartments for low-income families with rents ranging from $517-$645. Residents of Harbour Station Apartments have access to Energy Star appliances, a playground, a security camera system, a laundry facility and a community building — and without the housing credit, this development would not have been possible. Two bills now before Congress, H.1142 and S.1193, will make permanent the funding mechanisms that make this type of affordable housing development possible, enabling people to live in the communities in which they work — and I urge the citizens of the Lowcountry to ask their congressmen to vote in favor of this important measure.

Stable, affordable housing is the foundation of opportunity for hardworking families. Without it, kids find it difficult to do well in school, parents have trouble finding and keeping jobs and families struggle to stay healthy. The housing credit not only fosters opportunity by creating and preserving affordable housing, but, vitally, it also spurs economic development, strengthens neighborhoods and creates jobs.

Since it was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, the housing credit has leveraged nearly $100 billion to create or preserve 2.7 million affordable homes nationwide. In South Carolina alone, it has produced more than 35,000 homes and nearly 40,000 jobs and brought $3.8 billion in local income and $1.49 billion in tax revenues into our communities.

The housing credit is uniquely accountable precisely because it’s part of the tax code, which is one of the reasons it has always enjoyed bipartisan support. In the extremely rare case of a property falling out of compliance, credits can be reclaimed and taxpayers can get our money back, meaning private investors bear the financial risk, unlike in a direct government funding program. And, because it’s administered by the states, the housing credit can ensure developments like Harbour Station Apartments meet the specific needs of local communities here in South Carolina.

Simply put, the housing credit expands access to opportunity for all South Carolinians. Through it, we can keep our state affordable for generations of working families to come — and that’s worth remembering.

Valarie M. Williams is executive director of the South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority.