Eye On Illinois: Affordable housing reform requires local buy-in on state incentives

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When it comes to progress, it’s important to remember legislation is only one part of the journey.

An April 7 column about the shocking shortage of affordable housing units in Illinois — a gap of nearly 269,000 between the number of aspiring renters and available places — looked at House Bill 3123, the Build Illinois Homes Tax Credit, a plan to leverage federal money into incentives for affordable housing construction that could apply to up to 3,500 new units per year.

On April 14 the Senate Revenue Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 2445, which carries the same name as HB 3123. According to Capitol News Illinois, a key facet of the Senate bill is tax incentives to landlords who maintain qualified properties. Developers could get tax credits either by setting aside 20 percent of units for low-income tenants in areas currently low in affordable housing stock or if 15 percent of multi-unit buildings stay with renters from low or extremely low incomes for a decade.

Advocates are enthusiastic about these proposals and there are obvious upsides. But there’s also a track record of similar initiatives failing to solve this longstanding program, and hopefully those experiences offer a chance to learn from experience.

Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance didn’t work as intended, and even when developers paid opt-out fees, the money ended up in different parts of the city than those reformers intended, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Furthermore, while state incentives might sway a developer, local zoning boards have to approve new projects and some communities aren’t bothered by a lack of housing for people who don’t earn much money. Where high property taxes fund elite public schools, and retailers depend on a customer base with disposable income, a new apartment complex for people earning $12.55 an hour at their full-time jobs isn’t exactly moving the needle.

That resistance plagued 2003′s Illinois Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act. Any community with 1,000 residents and an affordable housing stock of less than 10% was supposed to submit plans for reaching the threshold. Many still haven’t. In January, WBEZ reported on how the Illinois Housing Appeals Board, created under that law, was formed in 2009, first fully seated in 2012 and still has never heard a case.

According to that report, communities cite home rule authority to skirt legal requirements. While the laws now advancing through each chamber aim to close those loopholes and link certain state funding to compliance, it’s clear the winds won’t shift until individual communities buy in to the importance of diversified housing stock.

The Build Illinois Homes Tax Credit could be a force for positive change, but it’s only a foundation. Whether communities build going forward remains to be seen.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

via Shaw Local

April 22, 2021 at 06:25AM

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