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Senators Push For LIHTC, Zoning Changes Amid ‘Flicker Of Hope’ For Housing Reform

When Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, took the stage at Bisnow’s Multifamily Annual Conference Thursday, he had just heard some news he said he couldn't wait to share: 145 House Republicans had expressed their support for an end-of-year tax reform package.

It is a package that could pave the way for an affordable housing proposal from the senator, who is one of the most vocal advocates for housing supply and affordability in Congress.

Sens. Todd Young and Ron Wyden, HUD Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman and NMHC President Sharon Wilson Géno

“One hundred and forty five House members late yesterday said that they wanted a tax bill,” Wyden said onstage. “But that's a flicker. Let's turn it into a flame. Show that this is something that people really feel strongly about.

“We desperately need to increase supply, and particularly housing for folks of modest means and working people,” he added.

Wyden joined Sen. Todd Young, a Republican who represents Indiana, and Department of Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman at the event, held at the Mayflower Hotel in Dupont Circle, to discuss affordability challenges and proposals making their way through the federal government — from new policies on zoning and land use to conversions and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.

“In my state, 26 school districts are either buying houses, renting houses, arranging housing for their teachers,” Wyden said. “Otherwise they won’t be able to keep them.”

Wyden and Young, both on the Senate Finance Committee, said they hope the larger tax package gaining steam in Congress will be a vehicle for their Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act. The bill, which has bipartisan support, seeks to expand and strengthen LIHTC, including restoring the 12.5% cap increase that expired in 2021, increasing resources by 50% and lowering the Private Activity Bond financing threshold required to trigger the maximum amount of credits from 50% to 25%. 

“We can build out more supply, then allow the basic forces of supply and demand to kick in,” Young said. 

Simultaneously, Young and fellow Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii are taking on land usage and zoning barriers with their Yes In My Backyard Act. On the panel, Young pointed to obstacles on the local level that restrict development, things like setback, density and aesthetics requirements. 

“These have historically been barriers to new housing being built,” Young said. “Historically, they've been used to squeeze out particular types of people.”

The YIMBY bill would require local jurisdictions to be more transparent with HUD and the public about their decisions behind preventing housing from being built. 

“Not everyone, myself included, has time or a desire to go to the local zoning board commission and hear people drone on about different decisions,” Young said. “So this would allow all the stakeholders to look at the sheet of paper, go online and see what the rationale is and hold their local officials accountable.”

In the executive branch, Todman pointed to actions HUD and other federal agencies are taking regarding conversions as a way to spur housing supply.

In October, the White House put out a playbook detailing the mechanisms the federal government is using to help spur office-to-residential conversions. They consist of efforts by the Department of Transportation as well as HUD, which has expanded its Community Development Block Grant program to include a use case of converting offices to housing. 

“We know that that’s not easy. It's not the silver bullet,” Todman said, referring to office-to-residential conversions. “But we do know that there’s an expressed need of, how do we deal with some of the vacancies in towns across the country and use it for the public good? And so the administration has been leaning in here.”

The lawmakers and administration official implored the audience to call their representatives and express support for the initiatives to create more housing supply and alleviate the affordability crisis.

“Tell your story. Please, tell your story,” Young said at the end of the panel. “This is not complicated. Connect the needs of the people in your communities. Connect the needs of the folks in the markets you serve. Connect those things in a very personal way to the policies you're advocating for.”