No-account affordable housing accountability
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.