‘We need more affordable housing’: Cantwell calls for housing money in infrastructure bill
There is a busy construction site in the Logan neighborhood near Gonzaga Prep on North Nevada Street.
Large trucks lift dust from the bare ground. Piles of 2 by 4 are at the base of buildings covered with plywood. Helmet-wearing men walk around and work to complete this 73-unit, $ 22 million affordable housing project by fall.
Sheltering from the sun under a white tent fitted with misting machines, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell said on site Thursday that Spokane, Washington and America must see thousands more housing projects like the five buildings Gonzaga Family Haven.
Cantwell is pushing to include affordable housing money in a federal infrastructure bill.
âAffordable housing should be part of the critical infrastructure discussion,â Cantwell said. âWe are here today to say that we need more affordable housing in America. “
It can be difficult for progressive Democrats to include housing in an infrastructure package.
On March 31, President Joe Biden unveiled the American Jobs Plan, a $ 2.65 trillion infrastructure proposal. This massive eight-year plan provided money for everything from highways, railways and airports to affordable housing, clean water and high-speed internet.
Last week, the Biden administration agreed to a bipartisan compromise that reduced the proposal to $ 1.2 trillion.
The bipartisan deal completely wiped out the $ 326 billion portion of Biden’s original plan that focused on affordable housing, buildings and schools.
For this reason, Cantwell is trying to rally support to put housing back into the mix. It’s possible the final package will pass without Republican votes, in which case Cantwell and other like-minded politicians will have to convince more moderate Democrats to include dollars for affordable housing.
Spokane, Washington and many parts of the United States are experiencing a severe housing shortage coupled with soaring prices.
In Spokane, buyers take over homes within days of their arrival on the market. Rentals, especially those under $ 1,000 per month, are rare. Housing costs are rising much faster than incomes and homelessness is on the rise.
Government-subsidized affordable housing is needed to resolve the crisis, Cantwell said, and the best way to subsidize affordable housing is to use affordable housing tax credits. Increasing the availability of tax incentives and new construction will follow, she said.
Specifically, Cantwell is calling for a 50% increase in housing tax credits for low-income people – and she’s been calling for that increase for years.
Low-rental housing tax credits, in essence, provide investors with tax breaks for financing low-rental housing projects. Since the mid-1990s, the credits have helped subsidize the creation of approximately 110,000 affordable housing units per year. Cantwell said about 90% of all affordable housing projects – including the Gonzaga Family Haven – use the credits.
In Evergreen State, the Washington State Housing Finance Commission decides which developers get the tax credits – the developers then sell those credits to investors in exchange for financing.
Steve Walker, executive director of the Housing Finance Commission, said affordable housing projects often cannot continue without the help of tax credits.
But Walker’s agency is only able to award credits for about half of the projects it receives. If there were more credit available, there would be more construction of affordable housing, Walker said, and that construction is desperately needed.
âIt means revitalizing neighborhoods,â Walker said. “It means jobs.”
Cantwell estimates that if the infrastructure bill includes money for a 50% increase in low-rental housing tax credits, developers will build 6,000 affordable housing units in Spokane over the next decade. Washington would see 66,000 more units and the country as a whole would see 2 million.
Spokane City Council Chairman Breean Beggs said affordable housing is essential for a thriving community.
âWe all belong,â Beggs said, âand you can’t belong if you don’t have a room.â
Journalist Orion Donovan-Smith contributed to this story.