Senator Maria Cantwell traveled to Vancouver on Wednesday to advocate for an increase in a federal program that encourages the construction of affordable housing.
Speaking at the subsidized Caples Terrace apartment complex – which she last visited for her ribbon cutting two years ago – Cantwell called for a 50% increase in the national tax credit program for affordable housing for low-income people, as part of the country’s next infrastructure package.
“Affordable housing is a crisis in the United States of America and a crisis in our state,” Cantwell said. “What we know about the Affordable Housing Tax Credit is that it’s a great solution: it basically helps build more affordable housing in our communities, and just like Caples Terrace, they can be. unique. They can be tailored to the community, the needs of the community, and the population they are trying to serve.
In April, Cantwell introduced the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which would inject resources into the existing tax credit program. If passed, its staff estimate the bill would spur the development of 66,000 subsidized housing units across the state.
The program has been in existence since 1986. It gives states the power to issue approximately $ 8 billion per year in tax credits for social housing. According to a database maintained by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the tax credit was used to build 49,449 projects and 3.34 million homes between 1987 and 2019 (most recent data available).
Expanding the program has been a long-standing priority for the Democratic senator, who also introduced earlier versions of the bill to increase the total amount of the tax credit in 2016 and again in 2019.
The housing shortage has become particularly severe in the Pacific Northwest due to a growing economy that continues to attract workers to the area, Cantwell said at Wednesday’s press conference.
“First and foremost, housing and affordable housing must be part of our country’s overall infrastructure,” she said. “We have not kept pace with demand.
The event included comments from Vancouver Housing Authority Executive Director Roy Johnson and Vancouver City Councilor Erik Paulsen, as well as Steve Walker, Executive Director of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.
Miguel Viveros Chavez, a resident of Caples Terrace for two years, also addressed the gathered crowd.
Viveros Chavez, 22, said having access to affordable housing helped him earn his associate degree at Clark College. He is on track to start classes at Portland State University, where he plans to earn his BA in Social Work and MA in Teaching before becoming a teacher for the blind. Viveros Chavez is visually impaired and uses a cane.
“I’m someone who fought really hard to get to where I am because it hasn’t been an easy path at all for me. I had to face a lot of difficulties with the school, with the accommodations, I had to face a lot of personal difficulties. I had three jobs at a time and went to school full time, ”said Viveros Chavez. “I managed to manage and I got out of it. “
Caples Terrace is a 28 unit apartment complex aimed at helping homeless, unaccompanied and no longer fostered youth. It is intended to serve tenants aged 18 to 24 representing up to half of the neighborhood’s median income. Rent is based on what tenants can afford; they pay 35 percent of their monthly income.
The complex was the first affordable housing development led by the Vancouver Housing Authority that aimed to house a specific population. More than half of the funding for the project came from the tax credit program.
In his remarks, Walker called the tax credit program “the country’s best financing tool for affordable housing.”
“It is literally putting billions of dollars in private investment into the service of the public good. It works. And if we strengthen it and expand it, we can say yes to these projects that are waiting to be launched, ready to be built, ”Walker said.
Wednesday’s press conference marked Cantwell’s first in-person event in Washington state in nearly a year and a half. The June 30 visit coincided with Washington’s full reopening – as of that day, the state has lifted nearly all of its coronavirus masking and social distancing regulations.
“This is the first official event we have hosted in person since the COVID pandemic,” Cantwell said. “Southwest Washington is a priority, and we wanted to come here. ”