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Prioritize Vets, Save the Credit

June 16, 1991

Congress is expected for the fifth year in a row to debate whether the nation can afford the low-income housing tax credit, the principal government resource for financing new affordable housing for poor Americans.

There is no debate about the huge need. Millions of families, senior citizens and homeless people need affordable apartments or decent rooms in single-occupancy hotels.

There is little dissension over the merit of the credit, which is deducted from federal taxes paid by corporations that invest in low-income housing. That tax break generates funds used to construct or rehabilitate 100,000 apartments and rooms in a typical year.

The central issue is the $300-million cost to the federal Treasury at a time when burdensome deficits and tight budgets have become government fixtures. Politics typically determines budget priorities, but affordable housing is no sacred cow and poor people have little clout in Washington.

Veterans, however, are extremely popular on Capitol Hill. Why not reward those who served in the Persian Gulf with first crack at new affordable housing?

A preference in affordable housing would benefit younger soldiers, especially those who are returning home to working-class and low-income communities in expensive housing areas such as Southern California, New York and Boston. Not many of those young men and women can afford the high rents. Nor can they afford to take advantage of existing benefits that make it easier for them to buy houses, because the median price hovers at $200,000 or higher.

A preference on affordable housing would give veterans who qualify for the low-rent apartments a break on housing costs. They wouldn't be the only ones to benefit from the policy. Their neighbors would benefit from the addition of disciplined male role models in housing complexes that are often home to single mothers and their children.

In past sessions, Congress has renewed the tax credit a year at a time. A preference for veterans should persuade the patriotic lawmakers to permanently extend the tax credit to help Americans who need housing.

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