| New Reality for Housing Agencies|
|State and local housing agencies have been around since the early 1970s. Each of them was created to help low-income residents of a particular state or region obtain stable housing. Nearly every state, and most counties, have a housing agency, as do some cities. Housing agencies assist low-income residents by providing down payment assistance, covering closing costs and even some repair expenses. Generally, agencies use bonds, tax credits and federal grants to fund their activities.|
Bonds are issued by government entities, and the revenue generated is used to provide financial assistance to first-time home buyers making at or below the Area Median Income (AMI). More commonly known as Mortgage Revenue Bonds, these funds can only be used for first-time home buyers. Federal regulations limit the amount of funding states can raise via bonds during a given fiscal year, and the limit is generally based on population. For the most recent fiscal year, the maximum allowable bond issuance was set at $90 per resident, and the minimum was a little over $237 million total per state.
The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program was created in 1986, as a way to encourage the development of affordable housing. Tax credits are allocated to government entities that in turn award them to developers and non-profit organizations. The credits are sold to investors and the money used to offset the cost of construction, which enables developers to offers a select number of housing units at below-market rates.
Federal grants are provided to housing agencies through programs like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership. It is estimated that the HOME program encourages a three-to-one ratio of private investment to HOME funding, significantly increasing the amount of money available for the creation, rehabilitation and purchase of affordable housing.
Housing agencies work diligently to use these tools as effectively as possible to serve low- and middle-income residents. As early as the 1990s, resources and clientele were in abundance, and the sustainability of housing agencies was rarely questioned. But over the last few years, as the country has struggled to recover from a severe economic downturn, agencies are running low on funding, if not on clientele, forcing them to explore creative - and sometimes unpleasant - options to ensure that residents' needs are met. Affordable Housing CDC of Jackson, Tennessee is the perfect example.
Affordable Housing CDC began 17 years ago, with the mission of helping low-income families realize their dreams of homeownership. For nearly two decades, the non-profit organization provided down-payment and closing cost assistance, and help with home repair costs. As with many agencies, the economic downturn has been hard on Affordable Housing CDC, significantly limiting the number of potential home buyers who need the type of services it offers. As a result, it began looking for alternative ways to service its clientele, while simultaneously reducing costs. This summer, the agency decided it was time to join forces with another housing assistance organization.
Affordable Housing CDC merged with Southwest TN CDC, a non-profit that offers similar services. Southwest TN was started by the Southwest Human Resource Agency, and is headquartered less than 20 miles away, in Henderson, Tennessee.
Part of its motivation for merging with Southwest TN is the fact that Southwest has a full and active case load of clients needing assistance. Under the umbrella of the Southwest Human Resource Agency, the newly merged agencies have a solid infrastructure and more resources, better enabling them to help area residents.
Similar merges are taking place across the country. In some areas, housing agencies are being outright dissolved because financial constraints make even the most creative solutions impossible to implement.