New Study Shows Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program Fails at Delivering Affordable Housing in Arizona

New Study Shows Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program Fails at Delivering Affordable Housing in Arizona

Today the Arizona Free Enterprise Club released a new study evaluating the cost of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) in Arizona and Washington and how LIHTC have performed compared to other government backed housing affordability programs. The review determined that in both states, LIHTC have led to a significant increase in the cost of development and construction when compared to similar market rate housing.

In his analysis, economist Everett Stamm determined that a “lack of oversight and transparency, requirements to pay higher wages and inadequate cost control measures all attribute to the higher development costs” associated with LIHTC.  Stamm concludes that even if proper reforms were implemented with LIHTC, other tenant-based programs, such as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, are better suited to provide housing for low income residents than LIHTC.

Evidence that LIHTC drive up construction costs and fail to keep housing affordable add to the list of concerns that exist with the program. “There is ample evidence, both from the Government Accountability Office and the US Department of Justice, that the Low-Income Housing tax Credit Program has been rampant with fraud and other criminal activity and lacks basic oversight to determine any tangible benefits,” said Scot Mussi, President of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club.

“If the legislature is serious about addressing housing affordability, they should look at options that are tenant based and that drive down the cost of construction. Low income housing tax credits accomplish exactly the opposite,” Mussi continued.

In Arizona, there is currently a proposal to spend $8 Million to expand the LIHTC program, which is being aggressively pushed by developers and investors that will financially benefit from the tax credits.

The complete study by the Club on LIHTC can be viewed by clicking HERE.

AG Brnovich Tackling Corporate Welfare at ASU

AG Brnovich Tackling Corporate Welfare at ASU

For months now, the AZ Attorney General Mark Brnovich and the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR, the governing body for Arizona State University) have been in embroiled in a hot legal battle over taxpayer subsidies for wealthy developers.

At the center of the legal dispute is whether ABOR has violated several provisions of the Arizona constitution designed to protect taxpayers from crony capitalist giveaways.

Evidence suggests that they have.

The framers of Arizona’s constitution understood that property taxes are a zero-sum game, and that any levy assessed should be as fair and equitable as possible.  If someone pays less as a result of a special interest carve-out, everyone else will be forced to pay more.   To prevent picking winners and losers through the property tax code, the framers installed several key protections in our constitution:

  1. Uniformity Clause, “all taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of property within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected for public purposes only.”
  2. No Evasions, “no property shall be exempt which has been conveyed to evade taxation”
  3. No Exceptions, “All property in the state not exempt under the laws of the United States or under this constitution or exempt by law under the provisions of this section shall be subject to taxation to be ascertained as provided by law.
  4. No Gifts, “Neither the state, nor any county, city, town, municipality, or other subdivision of the state shall ever give or loan its credit in the aid of, or make any donation or grant, by subsidy or otherwise, to any individual, association, or corporation.”

Governmental entities, including public universities, do not pay property tax.  This makes sense as the money to pay the taxes would have to be taken from taxpayers in the form of more taxes.  But for decades now, local cities as well as ABOR have devised creative solutions to exploit their exemption from property taxes and “lend” it to private developers.

ASU Projects: Research Park, Marina Heights, and Omni Hotel Are Evidence of Gamesmanship:      

“Research Parks”

In the 1980’s ASU formed a “research park” which strived to have private business and students working alongside each other in educational pursuits to launch ideas into the marketplace.  This was permitted legislatively, and the university paid the same rate of taxation as other users in the same classification but on a mere 1 percent of their property value.  It soon became quite obvious that the mission of the research park was creeping beyond the original intent of the legislation and as a result, major corporations were enjoying major tax deference for what was their normal business operations. 

Between the research parks of University of Arizona and ASU, they host approximately 50 companies in 4 million square feet.  These companies don’t pay property taxes but instead pay a “tariff” to the university as well as the city.  All the other jurisdictions, including the State of Arizona who rely on property taxes, get absolutely nothing.

Marina Heights

Marina Heights is located on Tempe Town Lake and includes the well-known “State Farm” building.   In December 2017, with a deal that captured headlines in the state, the building’s “lease-back” was sold to a business partnership that includes Arizona icon and business insider Jerry Colangelo for almost $1 Billion – one of the largest commercial land transactions in state history.

One of the most valuable assets of the property was the value of not paying taxes.  In fact, that value is approximately $12.1 Million a year of which $3.45 would be owed to the State, $6.6 to the Tempe Elementary and Tempe Union school districts, and $1.2 million to the Maricopa Community College District.  Not only do these jurisdictions have to back fill their budgets and other property owners make up that difference, but other like businesses must try to compete with a colossal tax advantage.

Omni Hotel

Brnovich’s latest suit filed in January of this year centers around a project called Omni Hotel (located on Mill Ave and University) and predominantly argues the deal included a massive violation of the state constitution’s gift clause.

In typical ABOR fashion, the Omni Hotel transaction is a sweet deal for developers and less so for taxpayers as a whole.  ASU will spend $19.5 Million to construct a conference center and parking garage and pay $8 Million to the hotel for use of that parking garage to the profit of the hotel.  ASU will only be allowed use of the conference center 7 days out of the year.

It is a 60-year lease with an express provision of evading taxes by requiring a “in lieu of taxes” payment of $1 Million a year.  The hotel is only on the hook for $85 per square foot for rent even though within two blocks there are other hotels that sold for a market rate of $212 – 216 per square foot – a seemingly $9 Million subsidy.

This major injection of corporate welfare does not even account for the $21 Million in tax incentives being given by the City of Tempe.

Justice for Taxpayers

Given the explicit intentions of the state constitution to protect the property tax base from chicanery of the system; ABOR’s long-standing history of using their tax-exempt status to shield corporate entities should not be ignored.  AG Brnovich is doing a service to every taxpayer in the state by calling for an end to this blatant illegal practice. 

Afterall, ASU is also constitutionally bound to make tuition “as nearly free as possible.”  Year after year of tuition hikes on Arizona students are certainly hard to square with hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate giveaways.

New Mexico’s Film Tax Subsidy Program Continues to Take on Water

Lawmakers in New Mexico are in a self-imposed quandary. They’ve adopted a lucrative tax credit program for the film industry they simply can’t afford yet can’t walk away from.

The Enchantment State dolls out 25-30 percent rebates for production related expenses up to $50 Million a year. This spending cap is one of the only mechanisms of restrain in the program which is financed straight out of the state’s general fund.

Pressure to uncap the program has mounted due to New Mexico owing $380 Million in backlogged credits. If these trends continue – this debt will grow to $700 Million by 2023 – and a film claiming a credit, then wouldn’t be reimbursed for up to 14 years.

Now Governor Lujan Grisham and lawmakers want to make a one-time payment to clear this backlog as well as remove the annual spending cap so they can have the ability to throw unlimited chum in the water to lure Hollywood sharks.

Only two other states in the country have uncapped their film subsidy programs: Illinois and Georgia. The irony of Georgia’s unconditional love for Hollywood is manifold. The state’s program is rife with abuse. Warner Brothers defrauded the state by charging them $600,000 for an airplane never used in the movie “Sully.” And yet this didn’t stop an award-winning display of hypocrisy when Hollywood stars called for a boycott of Georgia when a Republican Governor was elected. For a state that calls themselves “Y’allywood,” they were harshly reminded that despite spending $200 Million a year on extra caviar money for film stars, when it comes to the real insider VIP party, they’re not on the list.

States are tripping over themselves to throw money at the rich and famous for an industry whose loyalty cannot be bought. They will happily continue to jet-set around the world anywhere the highest-bidding government will pay them for honor of their appearance. The political ridicule they throw in for free.
New Mexico lawmakers are doing their best to pretend they aren’t completely owned by their starlet masters. Their bill also includes razzle dazzle “reforms” including tightening up for what expenditures can be reimbursed (a notoriously abused standard.) And what one would think is a laugh line, requirement for better acknowledgments of New Mexico in the film credits… A little more “limelight” is what New Mexico taxpayers are getting for the promise to dole out hundreds of millions to entitled movie makers.

Despite the flop of film tax credit programs around the nation, states continue to fall for this fool’s errand. Just this year a bill was introduced by Representative Bob Thorpe at the Arizona legislature to divvy out some of the state’s business tax credits to film production. Luckily the bill didn’t get traction.

However, if there is any lesson to be learned by lawmakers in Arizona from New Mexico – it is once you start feeding the lions – they become more voracious – it becomes harder and harder to stop. And for states that think that will keep the lions from biting – think again.

Affordable Housing Tax Credits are a Poor Program to Help the Poor

Affordable Housing Tax Credits are a Poor Program to Help the Poor

Every legislative session, lawmakers are duped by rosy tax credit programs, sold as either robust jobs programs or silver bullets to our social woes.

This year HB2365, sponsored by Representative Ben Toma, is being sold as both.  The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is a federal program by which qualified investors are incentivized to build housing projects for low-income persons with generous income tax subsidies.

How it works.

It is a sweetheart deal for banks, insurance companies and investors.  The Arizona program allows for $12 Million a year of tax credits that can be matched with the subsidies offered through the federal program.  The bills mirror the federal LIHTC percentages and can be carried over for 10 years.

To illustrate the business model, a $10 Million project qualifies for 9 percent tax credits.  That is $900,000 a year and $9 Million over the course of the 10 year carry forward period.  Banks sell these credits to other investors who make up a pool to finance the project.  Some projects are even able to bridge financing gaps with other government programs. But not only are almost the entire project costs subsidized by the taxpayer, another $2.2 Million is generated through tax write offs from real estate losses, depreciation and interest expenses.

This mechanism is supported by many layers of middlemen who add to the cost of building these projects.  As a result, the program is lucrative for investors, and very costly for the taxpayers.

How it actually doesn’t work.

For several years now, this program has been sharply scrutinized by various parties including the Office of Government Accountability (OGA), think tanks, and the media.

The overarching theme: this is a costly and inefficient program, susceptible to fraud and dubious in its impacts to shelter low-income Americans.

Much of the gamesmanship of the program revolves around the submittal of construction costs which the OGA determined varied drastically from state to state and project to project.

The average LIHTC project cost $218,000, yet only $9,400 of it was the cost of the land; a ratio observably out of whack. This is par for the course for a program which in the past has been scandalized by construction kick-back schemes.  The program has been gamed in other ways.  Just last Fall, Wells Fargo made an over $2 Billion settlement with the Department of Justice for nation-wide collusion to devalue the tax credits.  Hundreds of millions of dollars have been siphoned from the program in these ways resulting in far fewer units being built for the poor at a great cost to taxpayers.

Neither at the state nor federal level, did necessary oversight exist to ferret out inflated budget projections and fraud.  In fact, only seven of the 56 agencies around the country awarding these credits has been audited in the program’s 30-year history.

And yet the feds continue to soak increasing dollars into the program each year, though the actual number of units being constructed dwindles.  According to an investigation conducted by NPR, the $9 Billion LIHTC program is producing fewer units than it did 20 years ago yet taxpayers are paying 66 percent more in tax credits.  Aside from the fraud, another factor likely being the many syndicators, consultants, and financiers that work in their margins into the complicated process.

What else this reveals.

The OGA’s report on the vast cost variations in building state to state, reveal another critically important truth.  Jurisdictions with onerous and restrictive land use regulations drive the high costs to build there.  These incentive programs in fact reward states that cause their own affordable housing crises and fleece taxpayers all at the same time.  A report issued by the National Association of Homebuilders and the National Multifamily Housing Council estimated that 32 percent of multifamily costs were attributable to regulation.

In fact, studies of housing prices have shown costs have directly increased with land use regulations.  As a result, federal housing affordability spending is almost two times higher in the most regulated states than the least regulated states.


There are better ways.

It is long-time policymakers address affordable housing for American families by addressing the root of the problem and tailoring assistance programs that serve those in poverty, not only those seeking a profit.

Under the new federal administration, director of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson, has looked to do just that.  Instead of continuing to reward bad behavior by local governments, his agency has discussed attaching HUD grants to regulatory reforms proven to lower housing costs.  HUD’s position that they won’t continue to aid in the affordable housing problem by subsidizing it – is also a signal to states that they should look to curb their own contributions to the problem instead of simply seeking more federal handouts.  In Arizona, one of those factors is the residential rental tax – which disproportionately impacts low-income individuals.

Reforming land regs is a long-term endeavor and won’t solve the immediate need for low-income people in unaffordable housing markets.

But there are better ways to structure programs than the convoluted LIHTC program.  One such proposal with bipartisan support are “Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV).”  Instead of incentivizing profiteers to supply housing – HCVs empower individuals and families to access housing in places they desire to live.

This approach allows low-income families to move to higher income places which often gives them access to better jobs and school districts and affords children of low-income families’ greater opportunities to succeed.  Because the LIHTC programs provide greater incentives for building in designated areas of greater poverty, it has the direct effect of actually concentrating poverty and segregating poor people.

Arizona lawmakers should help poor people and protect taxpayers.

The expansion of this 30-year-old failed federal program in Arizona would be a big mistake. The bill being pedaled this year is not being backed by advocates for the poor; but by those who stand to gain the most – insurance companies, investors and banks.  If lawmakers truly care about the poor – and the taxpayer – they will resoundingly reject HB2365.