Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden toured the Azimuth 315 apartment complex on Bend's west side on Sept. 30 to advocate for low-income housing tax credits and clean energy tax credits — which reduces the amount owed in federal income taxes — to provide affordable housing. The median Bend home costs over $700,000, which is about $200,000 more than the median Oregon home sale.
- Jack Harvel
- Ron Wyden spoke to reporters outside of the Azimuth 315 apartment complex on Sept. 30 to promote low-income housing tax credits and clean energy tax credits.
The Azimuth apartments are funded through low-income housing tax credits, and applications are only open to people making 60% or less of the area median income — in Bend that's about $34,000 for a single person, $39,000 for two people and $48,000 for a family of four. As of December 2021, only 20% of Bend households could afford the median price of a home. A one-bedroom apartment at the complex is listed at $765 a month.
"Housing is very capital intensive. And affordable housing requires a combination of funds that are federal, state, local at the city level as well as from grant sources," said John Gilbert, co-owner of Pacific Crest Affordable Housing, which built the Azimuth apartments. "The biggest of those funds is low-income housing tax credits, which typically funds about 75-80% of these projects. This project was a $14 million project. So that translates into something like $10 to $11 million coming from low-income housing tax credits."
Oregon allocates low-income housing tax credits to developers for about 10 projects a year, who in turn work with a partner to sell them to other organizations, typically around the same price it'll save in taxes. The largest buyer of these credits are banks because it fulfills a legal obligation to invest in low-income communities under the Community Reinvestment Act, a 1977 law that was intended to reverse the impacts of redlining.
Wyden said he pushed for 2018 legislation that increased allocation of low-income tax credits to the state by 12.5%, adjusted the income test to average the salaries of tenants, which previously wouldn't allow tenants if an individual breached the 60% threshold. He also co-sponsored a 2021 bill that would fund more low-income housing tax credits and supported an additional $29 billion of expanded low-income housing tax credits in the Build Back Better Act.
"The low-income housing tax credit is, dollar for dollar, one of the best investments you can make in housing. Residents like it, developers find it to have as little red tape as possible. And so, we're going to build on that," Wyden told reporters.
Critics of low income tax credits say the bureaucracy involved inflates the cost of building housing, that it costs the federal government over $9 billion a year, that maintaining it as low income housing is difficult after the affordability restrictions expire and that it concentrates people into low income communities where opportunities may be limited. About 90% of all newly created affordable rental housing utilizes the credit, and a report covering the years 2011-2015 found about the program financed about 50,000 low-income housing units.
Wyden also discussed clean energy tax credits, which the Azimuth complex also utilized. He called the Inflation Reduction Act the biggest investment in climate change in the country's history. The bill includes $260 billion of clean energy tax credits that subsidize individual homeowners' energy efficient improvements.
The bill covers 30% of efficiency improvements like windows, insulation and appliances up to $1,200 a year, 30% off heat pumps or efficient wood stoves up to $2,000 per year, covers $150 of home energy audits and 30% off rooftop solar panels, battery storage and geothermal heat pumps. Vehicles have up to $7,500 tax credit for new electric or hydrogen fuel cell cars and 30% off up to $4,000 off a used clean car.
Businesses can also take advantage of 30% off of efficiency investments like rooftop solar and geothermal heat pumps, EV charging stations in low-income and rural areas and electric vehicles up to $7,500 for light duty vehicles and $40,000 for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. Power developers are eligible for a 30% tax credit for zero-emission power facilities and industrial business can get up to $85 per ton of carbon they capture.
"If you're talking about a commercial building, they can get expanded energy efficiency credits up to $5 a square foot depending on the level of energy savings," Wyden said. "This is going to allow us to get to a significant fraction of our carbon emission reduction goal by 2030, not 3050 or something else—2030. Some estimates as much as 40% of our carbon emission goal by 2030."
Wyden also spoke about his proposal to create a middle-income housing tax credit that would cap rents at 30% of the area median income and be eligible for people making 100% or less of the AMI.
"In Central Oregon, if you have a firefighter and a nurse that are having trouble figuring out how to get a roof over their head, they're going to benefit from [the middle income housing tax credit]," Wyden said. "Those firefighters and nurses, folks who are middle income and working hard and playing by the rules in Central Oregon, they're going to have a chance to be part of the American dream."