No-ac­count af­ford­able hous­ing ac­count­abil­ity

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - DEB­O­RAH SIM­MONS Deb­o­rah Sim­mons can be con­tacted at dsim­mons@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

As mem­bers of Congress re­treat for the sum­mer to reach out and grab the (greasy) palms of those who put them in of­fice, tax re­form has been pen­ciled onto the cal­en­dar. The ques­tions now: Who’s ben­e­fit­ting and who’s go­ing to ben­e­fit if there is in­deed an af­ford­able hous­ing “cri­sis” in Amer­ica?

The na­tion’s top bean counter, the Gen­eral Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice is ask­ing and an­swer­ing those ques­tions.

Con­sider the GAO re­port re­leased this week on the IRS and the Low In­come Hous­ing Tax Credit pro­gram. The pro­gram was es­tab­lished un­der the Tax Re­form Act of 1986, and it is the largest source of fed­eral as­sis­tance for de­vel­op­ing af­ford­able rental hous­ing. In 2017, it will cost tax­pay­ers an es­ti­mated $8.5 bil­lion.

To this mis­for­tune of mil­lions of tax­pay­ers, how­ever, the IRS and some of the state and lo­cal hous­ing fi­nance agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for dis­pens­ing the bil­lions are fail­ing to en­sure the af­ford­able hous­ing projects are qual­i­fied to re­ceive the tax credit, and that the projects are mon­i­tored.

Fur­ther­more, the GAO re­port found that the IRS ei­ther col­lected lit­tle data on the tax credit re­cip­i­ents or per­formed lim­ited analy­ses for ac­count­abil­ity — i.e., of com­pli­ance in the pro­gram.

What’s more, since it took ef­fect in 1986, the IRS has con­ducted but seven au­dits of the 58 state and lo­cal agen­cies that the GAO re­viewed.

More­over, the lack of au­dits and lax over­sight mean what? Over-sub­si­dized af­ford­able hous­ing projects, and the like­li­hood that other projects do not get funded.

The District’s over­seers missed all those marks and a few others that were cited in an au­dit con­cluded ear­lier this year by D.C. Au­di­tor Kathy Pat­ter­son.

First, it’s worth not­ing that Mrs. Pat­ter­son’s March re­port was the first-ever con­ducted on the Hous­ing Pro­duc­tion Trust Fund, which is the chief source of fund­ing for af­ford­able hous­ing.

Es­tab­lished in 1988, the hous­ing fund had a sim­ple mis­sion: Cre­ate af­ford­able hous­ing. Be­tween 2001, which fund­ing be­gan, and 2016, which Mrs. Pat­ter­son cov­ered in her au­dit, the hous­ing fund had re­ceived more than $1 bil­lion.

How­ever, it was Mrs. Pat­ter­son who un­cov­ered one of the fund’s dirt­i­est lit­tle se­crets — that the city had loaned $2 mil­lion to a de­vel­oper than never de­liv­ered af­ford­able hous­ing units that were promised for se­nior cit­i­zens.

The prob­lem? Be­cause no one was pay­ing at­ten­tion, the poor record keep­ing, lax ex­ec­u­tive branch and leg­isla­tive over­sight, the pro­gram ran amok.

In­deed, all was quiet un­til Mayor Muriel Bowser pushed to ful­fill a cam­paign promise to add an­other $100 mil­lion into the hous­ing fund’s kitty.

Mean­while, Florida, Texas and other states have had their prob­lems with af­ford­able hous­ing projects, too — mostly with ten­ants com­plain­ing that their com­plexes are rid­dled with ro­dents and crim­i­nals, and that some ba­sic hu­man ne­ces­si­ties of heat, air con­di­tion­ing and run­ning wa­ter are nonex­is­tent.

The D.C. no-tax­a­tion-with­out-con­gres­sional-vot­ing-rights-rep­re­sen­ta­tion crowd is fa­mous for blast­ing Congress on abor­tion rights, as­sisted sui­cide, le­gal­ized mar­i­juana and nee­dle-ex­change pro­grams.

But the next time they tell Congress to butt out of the city’s af­fairs, they should pic­ture them­selves in front of tax­pay­ers try­ing to ex­plain how they’ve been neg­li­gent hold­ing them­selves, de­vel­op­ers and af­ford­able hous­ing ad­vo­cates un­ac­count­able.

They should re­mem­ber th­ese words by Sen. Charles Grass­ley on us­ing pub­lic dollars for af­ford­able hous­ing: “If you aren’t fol­low­ing the money, how do you know if the low-in­come hous­ing tax credit is work­ing?”

Sure, Mr. Grass­ley is an Iowa Repub­li­can, and much of blue Amer­ica is bat­tling any­thing Repub­li­can-, con­ser­va­tive- or Trump-re­lated.

But Repub­li­cans use the term af­ford­able hous­ing, too.

That’s why it’s so im­por­tant for Democrats to link arms with Repub­li­cans and en­cour­age — no, urge — that af­ford­able hous­ing pro­grams de­liver.

D.C. Del­e­gate Eleanor Holmes could help. Af­ter all, hous­ing the poor is a sta­ple of Demo­cratic plat­forms.

To that end here’s how Mrs. Nor­ton de­fines af­ford­able hous­ing: “[T]here isn’t any.”

The cri­sis, then, is the mis­man­age­ment and lax ac­count­abil­ity, not the lack of fund­ing.

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