Affordable housing at risk

America is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis — Baltimore, too. Ten million families are paying more than 50 percent of their monthly income on rent, a severe cost burden that leaves little for food and other necessities. Over 32,000 applicants (and counting) are on the Housing Authority of Baltimore City's waiting lists. Public housing authorities can only do so much. With limited, dwindling public resources, private dollars are needed now more than ever to help create affordable housing.

Yet the country's main tool for using private dollars to create affordable housing, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, is at risk as members of Congress look to comprehensive tax reform as a way to help stabilize U.S. debt and our economy.

A decent home is the foundation of opportunity and hope. Without one, it's hard to do well in school, keep or secure a job, maintain a healthy lifestyle or devote oneself to acquiring new skills. Just ask Marcia Sanders, who relocated to Baltimore after her New Orleans home was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. She was depressed for a long time as chronic instability and uncertainty took its toll, physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially. She ended up at the affordable development Harper House in North Baltimore, which she says was a tremendous relief and without which she would have been homeless. Reinvigorated with a roof over her head in a home she could feel good about, she enrolled in school and is working with a job coach to improve her career options.

That's the power of a home. To solve our affordable housing crisis, we'll need to make sure that everyone has a home that they can afford.

The housing credit not only helps us in pursuit of that noble goal, but it is an important economic development driver for Baltimore and Maryland, fueling the creation of quality affordable homes for hardworking families and people with special needs, seniors, veterans and the homeless.

This week, cut the ribbon on The Greens at Irvington Mews, a new, eco-friendly, affordable development for seniors and disabled adults in Southwest Baltimore on the site that once served as the Irvington Loop, a storage yard and turnaround for the No. 8 trolley line. If the housing credit is eliminated, our company and others that do similar work throughout the U.S. will no longer be able to create developments like The Greens at Irvington Mews. This is especially concerning because already there are only 11.6 million affordable rental homes available to 18 million low-income renters nationwide. Adding fuel to the fire, average rents are expected to rise by another 5 percent in 2013 alone, meaning an even deeper affordability crisis. Clearly, the need for quality affordable housing has never been more critical.

Fortunately, we have a proven tool to help meet this need. In Maryland, the housing credit has helped create more than 53,000 new affordable homes, which has translated into nearly 62,000 jobs, mostly in the small-business sector. The construction and ongoing operations of affordable housing attract significant private investment and generate substantial tax revenue for our state and municipalities.

Since the program began, Maryland has allocated $2 billion in housing credits, leading to a return of nearly $5 billion in local income and $460 million in state and local tax revenue for our communities, based on National Association of Home Builders economic impact multipliers.

The housing credit represents the best of what government and the private sector can do together to help revitalize distressed neighborhoods. Unlike in a direct funding program, private investors — not the federal government — provide the money up front and bear the financial risk. This is one of the reasons it has always enjoyed bipartisan support. The housing credit is administered by the states, which also ensures that developments like The Greens at Irvington Mews meet Baltimore's specific local needs.

If the housing credit is eliminated, Baltimore, Maryland and our country will face a severe loss of affordable apartments, jobs and revenue. It will also mean an increase in hardship for many families that are already struggling.

Reducing the national debt requires new, innovative thinking, not the elimination of proven community development resources that foster opportunity and strengthen the fabric of our communities and economy.

Chickie Grayson is president and chief executive officer of Enterprise Homes Inc. Her email is

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