State Housing Advocacy Issues
Georgia ACT Final 2017 Legislative Report
May 23, 2017
Public Policy Advocate Elizabeth J. Appley, Esq.
This is the end of the first of a two year session, so legislation that did not pass this year remains available for action next year. This summer and fall are ideal times to connect with your Senator and Representative back in the district. Please thank them for voting for the bills that passed and share with them why affordable housing is a priority for you and your organization. This is an easy way to begin to build a relationship with your elected officials that will deliver great dividends when the legislature convenes again in January.
Keep in mind that 2018 will see the election of a new Governor, Lt. Governor, all state Constitutional office holders, all members of the Georgia House and Senate, and our House Congressional delegation. Candidates have already begun to announce their intentions and those races will play a decisive role in what happens next session and beyond. It is important that we work to be sure that housing is front and center in these races and the choices voters make.
We will be in touch to keep you informed about key Study Committees that will be meeting over the interim on housing matters.
Thank you for your engagement and advocacy this session. Your voice is the key to our advocacy successes!
The Hardest Hit Fund (HHF), administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, provides “targeted aid to families in states facing unemployment rates at or above the national average or home price declines greater than 20 percent”, making funding available “for state Housing Finance Agencies to develop locally-tailored foreclosure prevention solutions.” Somewhat similar to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which provided funds to bail out banks and other financial institutions, HHF can be considered as part of the “people’s bailout” designed to assist American families in danger of losing their homes through foreclosure due to the financial crisis and the accompanying housing meltdown. Georgia received $339.255.819 through HHF and is making those fund through the HomeSafe Program administered by the Department of Community Affairs. HomeSafe Georgia “offers mortgage assistance programs to eligible homeowners” to “help homeowners avoid foreclosure and remain in their home” through three distinct programs.
Georgia ACT analyzed the implementation of HomeSafe to determine the reasons for the large amount of uncommitted funds available years after the program start. Based on this analysis, Georgia ACT developed some recommendations to help ensure that the state benefits from the federal government’s investment of Hardest Hit Funds received. To read Georgia ACT’s analysis and recommendations, click here.
(from a press release issued by Congressman John Lewis of Georgia’s Fifth District): In 2016, Rep. John Lewis asked the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) to audit the state-run Hardest Hit Fund (HHF), TARP’s primary federal foreclosure mitigation program in Atlanta…SIGTARP’s audit discovered statewide mismanagement by Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which is the state’s housing finance agency and Treasury’s HHF contractor. “In response to the Great Recession, Congress provided desperately needed resources to help families stay in their homes. The responsibility then fell to State agencies to ensure that homeowners received the assistance Congress authorized. SIGTARP’s report shows that the HomeSafe Georgia program was shamefully managed. Unfortunately, despite repeated warnings, too many Georgian communities never received the assistance they expected and deserved. Time and time again, the agency failed to reach Georgia homeowners, who only sought the help promised to them.” To read the audit report, click here.
Fair Housing Choice
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has release for review the State’s draft “Georgia Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice.” DCA will use this document as part of its planning and activities related to housing and community development. The Analysis of Impediments serves as the substantive, logical basis for fair housing planning; provides essential and detailed information to policy makers, administrative staff, housing providers, lenders, and fair housing advocates; and assists in building public support for fair housing efforts. It is a review of impediments or barriers that affect the rights of fair housing choice. It covers public and private policies, practices, and procedures affecting housing choice. For more information, visit DCA’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice web page.
Georgia ACT collaborated with three other organizations to review and comment on the draft Analysis of Impediments. We concluded that the draft left out some obvious impediments to fair housing and that the actions proposed to remedy the identified impediments were a good first step, but more is needed to make a significant impact. To read a summary of the comments submitted, please click here.
Low Income Housing Tax Credits
The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program provides tax incentives to developers who reserve a portion of residential units for affordable housing.
The program is administered under different terms and conditions in each state.
To demonstrate the critical need for an expansion of the LIHTC, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wa) is asking for stories from anyone who has ever dealt with homelessness or struggled to find affordable housing. The campaign to expand the Housing Credit includes changes in order to strengthen the program and would increase the allocation authority by 50%. To support this campaign and share your story, click here. To learn more about LIHTC: visit http://www.nlihc.org/
The Tax Credit Assistance Program
The Tax Credit Assistance Program (TCAP) provided grant funding for capital investment in Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) projects via a formula-based allocation to state housing credit allocation agencies. The housing credit agencies in each state were required to distribute these funds competitively in accordance with their qualified allocation plan. Projects awarded low income housing tax credits in fiscal years 2007, 2008, or 2009 were eligible for funding, but housing credit agencies had to give priority to projects expected to be completed by February 2012. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) has TCAP program income available to operate and develop affordable housing in the State of Georgia and sought input on the use of these funds. All proposed uses of TCAP funding must be in keeping with DCA’s guiding priorities and additional preferences (see program Statement of Values). Additionally, the funds must ensure housing affordability for a minimum period of 15 years for households at or below 80 percent of area median income (AMI). DCA offered a 30-day comment period on the priorities, preferences, and considerations for uses of TCAP program income from 02/19/2015 – 3/23/2015.
Following are two of the comments that Georgia ACT submitted:
1. Homeownership vs. Rental
Low Income Housing Tax Credits and other programs that support the development of rental housing far outweigh State funding available for affordable homeownership and available subsidy is typically for buyers, not to support production of housing units. With the continued presence of foreclosed properties, we recommend reserving 30% of TCAP funding exclusively for acquisition and rehab of foreclosed properties, including construction of new units for sale or lease purchase in foreclosed subdivisions.
2. Nurture concerned, interested, committed parties (Supporting and strengthening partners in the housing delivery system)
DCA must intentionally aim to nurture, support and strengthen the most important partners in the housing delivery system committed to: – The development of affordable housing -Community and social impact (holistic and placed-based ) and -Those working to meet the greatest need and serve those least likely to apply .
Georgia-based, mission-driven, not-for profit developers meet these requirements. As such, Georgia ACT strongly encourages a set-aside, or enhanced scoring, for projects that have not-for-profit developers or majority not-for- profit development partners. To support this intentional focus, DCA’s formulation of the application process and requirements must ensure that burdensome amounts of upfront fees and capital and levels of capacity/experience do not restrict the ability of not-for-profits to apply for funding and compete against for-profit applicants.
Fair Market Rents
Many housing program benchmark against what the federal government calls Fair Market Rents (FMRs): gross rent estimates that include the shelter rent plus the cost of all utilities, except telephones. In Georgia, the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment is $817. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities – without paying more than 30% of income on housing – a household must earn $2,723 per month or $32,674 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into an hourly Housing Wage $15.71 per hour. Georgia’s minimum wage is of $7.25 is less than half of that and the average renter wage is $14.04. Rent affordable to a household at 30% of Georgia’s area median income: $459 Rent affordable to Supplemental Security Income recipients: $220 Rent affordable with full-time job paying minimum wage: $377 In 1988, the General Assembly created the State Housing Trust Fund for the Homeless. In addition to benefiting the homeless, the enabling legislation allows a focus on “residential housing projects” for all low income persons (not just homeless) and includes support for building affordable rental housing as well as support for home ownership.
Georgia ACT would like the State to increase funding for the Trust Fund by an additional $10 million. To meet the housing needs of Georgians, we also encourage consideration of the following:
1. Incentives for developers and cooperating local governments to promote development and preservation of affordable housing, including incentives and enforcement mechanisms for implementation of housing elements in local government comprehensive plans submitted to the Department of Community Affairs
2. Housing programs or innovations suitable for modeling or adapting to Georgia, especially those that meet the specific needs of rural Georgia and demonstrate how to coordinate affordable housing and economic development, so as to improve the local tax base.
3. Strategies for addressing barriers to development of affordable housing, such as inclusionary zoning and lack of infrastructure (particularly in rural areas).
4. The General Assembly could facilitate donation of improved or unimproved land to nonprofit corporations by enacting legislation to allow public entities to grant title of land (including that legally seized for non-payment of liens, surplus property, condemned real property, and real property taken by eminent domain, but unused) to qualifying organizations for development of affordable housing.