Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
Housing affordability is a critical issue in Idaho and all across the country. With higher interest rates set by the Fed, higher mortgage rates follow, making it all the more challenging for Idahoans to buy homes.
According to Harvard University’s annual State of the Nation’s Housing report, sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, in 2020, more than 1 in 7 households paid more than half of their income on housing, while paying more than 30 percent of monthly household income on rent or mortgages is defined as “unaffordable.”
To provide more affordable housing, existing tools in the tax toolbox provide incentives for builders to create more affordable homes. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), for example, is responsible for generating a majority of all affordable rental housing created in the U.S. today. In Idaho, there are currently 248 LIHTC projects across the state providing more than 12,000 units. These projects vary in size and are split roughly between urban and rural, with about 72 percent targeted toward families and 28 percent for seniors and the elderly. One such project is the Valor Pointe Apartments in Boise, which targets chronically homeless veterans.
While LIHTC and other credits are part of the solution to developing affordable housing, we must address other drivers that are increasing housing costs generally. Foremost in the current economy is the need to reduce inflation. Unfortunately, it has been allowed to run rampant, and necessary Federal Reserve actions will raise the cost of housing. Builders are also feeling inflation’s effect through more expensive building materials. And, painfully high fuel prices continue to put even more pressure on builders’ budgets, making it even more expensive to get materials to construction sites. Additionally, several economic factors have led to a shortage of affordable housing.
One way to alleviate the shortage would be to look into more manufactured housing. During his time at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, former Secretary Ben Carson created the Office of Innovation to evaluate new ways to provide housing, and in doing so highlighted the improved efficiency and suitability of manufactured homes. Zoning laws and regulatory barriers, which are often uncoordinated, unnecessary, or overly cumbersome, also present challenges to affordable housing by creating excessive costs that restrain development of affordable housing.
We must work to reduce regulatory barriers, which requires outside-the-box approaches, as well as teamwork from local, state and federal governments, and the private sector. This includes initiatives like Opportunity Zones that were part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Data released as of March 24, 2022, by the Opportunity Zone Fund Directory shows that $49.18 billion has been committed in anticipated investments and 60 percent of those funds target investments in affordable housing and community development.
Homes are more than just physical structures. Homes are a foundation for wealth building, family stability and community cohesiveness. It is critical that we make the American dream of homeownership as attainable for as many Idahoans as possible, which will continue to foster the economic success of the nation. I will continue to work to ensure affordability and accessibility of home ownership for Idahoans.
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