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As Oregon and the country face an affordable housing and homelessness crisis, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., recently joined Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and a bipartisan group of legislators to introduce a bill that would increase investment in affordable housing and provide more resources and stronger protections for at-risk groups.

“Housing is a right, and the lack of affordable housing is at crisis levels in communities all over America,” Wyden said. “Working families are struggling to pay their rent, being forced to leave their communities and falling into homelessness.

"By dramatically increasing the availability of affordable housing for low-income families, and focusing investment on populations more likely to struggle with housing like domestic violence survivors, students and veterans, our bill would make a significant down payment in addressing the housing crisis.”

From 2000 to 2017, the total number of Americans facing extreme housing unaffordability ballooned from seven million to 10.7 million – an increase topping 50 percent. In addition, there is a nationwide shortage of 7.4 million affordable rental homes, an increase from the 4.6 million gap in 2000.

This legislation, the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2019, would expand and strengthen the Affordable Housing Tax Credit (also known as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit) to produce more units of affordable housing to close this gap and better serve a number of at-risk and underserved communities.

The expanded Affordable Housing Tax Credit would produce roughly 1.9 million new affordable housing units over the next decade, more than 550,000 units more than would be possible otherwise.

The bill increases the total number of affordable housing units built by:

- Increasing the amount of credits allocated to each state by 50 percent over current levels, resulting in the production of more than 384,000 more affordable homes in the next 10 years than would otherwise be created.

- Stabilizing the value of the four percent Affordable Housing Tax Credit – which is used for new construction that uses additional subsidies or the acquisition cost of existing buildings – creating more certainty for ongoing and new projects and increasing affordable housing production by more than 66,000 units.

- Expanding and reforming “recycling” of multifamily housing bonds, allowing states to maximize the available resources of private activity bonds by recycling multifamily bonds for affordable housing, resulting in 100,000 additional affordable housing units.

In addition to expanding the number of affordable homes built in the United States, the legislation makes a number of key reforms to strengthen the Affordable Housing Tax Credit.

These reforms will:

- Better target extremely low-income populations. The legislations increases, by 50 percent, the amount of credits available to developments serving extremely low-income or populations with special needs such as formerly homeless veterans;

- Boost affordable housing in Indian Country. The legislations classifies projects in Indian Country as Difficult to Develop Area, increasing the amount of credits available to developments in these areas. The legislation also require states to consider the needs of their Native American communities by establishing new selection criteria for projects.

- Boost affordable housing to rural communities. The legislations gives states the ability to increase the amount of credit available to projects in rural areas.

- Creates veteran-specific housing options. The legislation stipulates that the Affordable Housing Tax Credit can be used to support housing for veterans of the armed forces.

- Protect victims of domestic violence and stalking. The legislation will bring all properties built using the Affordable Housing Tax Credit in line with Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) standards to better protect victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

- Opens affordable housing properties to more low-income students. The legislations simplifies current rules to ensure non-traditional students, such as single parents, veterans, formerly homeless youth, and domestic violence survivors, access to affordable housing properties. Previously the rule was overly complex and differed from other HUD-finance housing rules.

Along with Wyden and Cantwell, other co-sponsors include U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. and Todd Young, R-Ind., and U.S. Representatives Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, Don Beyer, D-Va., and Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.

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