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  Qualified Action Plans
In 1986, Congress passed legislation that created the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program. Under this program, tax credits are allocated to states, which then award the credits to developers, non-profit organizations and others to help fund the development and rehabilitation of low- and moderate-income housing. The amount of tax credits awarded to each state, and subsequently awarded to housing projects, is determined by each state's Qualified Action Plan (QAP).

A Qualified Action Plan serves two purposes: first, it defines the criteria that applicants must meet when they request Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. QAP requirements help potential applicants better define their projects, so as to ensure they meet state and local goals regarding low-income housing. Second, the QAP provides the lens through which state housing agencies critique and score applications.

The development of a Qualified Action Plan helps state agencies define their housing goals for the year. The federal code that regulates affordable housing and the LIHTC program has certain requirements that must be taken into consideration by all state agencies when scoring applications. They include: project characteristics (including total number of housing units and percentage that are low-income), tenant characteristics (including number of elderly, disabled, and families with children), and project location. In addition, each project's energy efficiency and historic character must also be scored.

While every state includes these required criteria, federal regulations give them the latitude to add their own criteria as well. Most state Qualified Action Plans include compliance and inspection requirements, and detailed consequences for noncompliance. Often, they also include minimum requirements regarding the number of "affordable" units, called "set-asides."

The general set-aside minimums are known as 20/50 and 40/60; in other words, 20 percent of the units in a multi-family project must be priced for people whose income is at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or 40 percent of the units must be priced for people whose income is at or below 60 percent of AMI. The purpose of set-asides is to ensure that projects receiving low-income tax credits actually include housing units that are accessible to low- and moderate-income families. And those units must remain rent-controlled for 15 to 30 years.

To ensure that tax credits are allocated to projects that will actually be completed, most QAPs require applicants to include documentation regarding the financial feasibility of a project. Applicants must prove their debt service ratio is below a certain level, estimate construction costs per square foot, and estimate operational costs of the building or buildings being proposed.

Once a draft QAP is developed, most states make the draft available to the public and invite feedback. In general, drafts are open for comment for 30 days, at which point feedback is taken into consideration and some changes may be made. Once the final draft is released, states generally begin accepting applications and begin offering workshops regarding the process. Reviewing a state's Qualified Action Plan is the best way to gain a comprehensive understanding of its overall goals regarding affordable housing, and the activities it is supporting in order to meet those goals.

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