Opinion

Recovery Act gets affordable housing back on track in Washington state | Sen. Maria Cantwell

America faces the most severe economic crisis in generations. Washington state’s unemployment rate is more than 14 percent in some counties. Too many families are struggling to get by, and their stories are becoming far too common.

I’ve heard from families across our state about the issues they face and how they are working to make ends meet. Michelle, a single mom from Auburn, told me about how she struggled to find an affordable apartment because of her limited income. She got caught in the gap between more people looking for affordable housing, and less and less of it being built every year.

In 2007, after years of struggling just to get by, Michelle’s story got its happy ending when she found a place for her family in a development that was financed using low-income housing tax credits. But for many other Washingtonians, their story doesn’t end as well. Affordable housing is only getting harder and harder to find due to increased foreclosures, skyrocketing rents, and staggering unemployment rates.

But as times get tougher, it’s also more important than ever for people have an affordable place to live. That’s why I worked hard to keep construction of affordable housing on track and provide additional assistance to hard pressed families through The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In 2008, the Washington State Housing Finance Commission allocated $138.6 million of federal tax credits to 26 competitive projects in 13 counties across the state. Unfortunately, because of the credit crunch, construction was stopped on 11 of these projects when there weren’t enough investors to finance the projects.

These 11 projects could provide 534 low-income housing units to Washingtonians. And by keeping these projects on schedule, the National Association of Homebuilders estimates that this bill will preserve 801 jobs in the state.

Washington state will receive more than $43 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help finance shovel-ready housing projects, provide decent affordable housing, and create economic opportunities for the people in our communities that need them most. And thanks to this funding, many of these 11 projects are back on track.

This funding will also enable owners to undertake much-needed project improvements to maintain the quality of this critical affordable housing.

Building affordable housing doesn’t just help families in need, it also creates much needed jobs in our state, and helps construction workers, plumbers, and workers in related fields keep their jobs. According to a recent Oregon Housing Finance Agency study, each job created on-site by affordable housing development or renovation projects can create an additional 1.5 jobs off-site. And each dollar invested in affordable housing generates an additional ten to fifteen dollars for the surrounding community. This impact is what Washington’s economy needs to get back on the fast track. .

Funding shovel ready projects isn’t the only way to solve this crisis. Because of the current credit crunch, many developers are faced with large gaps in the financing they need to start construction on many of these housing projects. The American Recovery Act provides $2.25 billion through the Home and Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to fill those gaps and get stalled housing development projects moving again.

Last month, I sat with residents in Yakima and Seattle to talk about affordable housing with those who desperately need to be heard. It’s clear that affordable housing is a key part of keeping America moving, but we have to pair this with our work to get people the tools they need to compete in the 21st century. Our workers need access to education and training for the skills they need to be successful for years and generations to come. I will continue to work to ensure that Michelle and all of Washington’s hard working families have the homes they deserve, a job they can proud of, and the opportunity to live out the American dream that this country and its economy has provided and will provide for years to come.

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