The Investment Appeal of Low Income Housing Tax Credits
Overview of the LIHTC
The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) provides incentives for corporations and individuals to invest in the acquisition, development and rehabilitation of affordable housing. The program offers federal tax credits to private equity investors that work with profit or non-profit developers in constructing or renovating rental properties for low-income tenants, those who earn 60 percent or less of the median family income for their county. As of 2010, the program has sparked the construction of over 1.7 million housing units throughout the country. The IRS allocates federal tax credits to Housing Credit Agencies (HCAs) in each state based on its population. HCAs award credits to housing developers based on their Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP), a rigorous and competitive application used to determine which developers will receive the credits. Once credits are acquired, equity investors purchase an interest in the business entity generating the tax credits, namely a limited partnership or limited liability company. The equity generated from the investor’s purchase is used to fund the property development. The tax credits are redeemed annually by investors over a ten-year period following the date that the property becomes operational, or “placed in service.” The number of tax credits, and subsequently the amount of equity raised, is calculated by computing the eligible basis, or the dollar amount of all depreciable costs of the project (which excludes the cost of land acquisition and operating reserves) minus ineligible sources of funding like grants or federal subsidies. The eligible basis is then multiplied by the percentage of eligible tax credit units in the project (at least 20 percent and up to 100 percent of all units in the building) to calculate the “qualified basis.” The investor may later claim either 9 percent or 4 percent of the qualified basis amount in tax credits per year, depending on whether the project is a new construction or rehabilitation of an existing structure.. As of March 2012, the average price for a credit is around $.94. Price fluctuates depending on the geography of the deal, the size of the project, the perceived risk of failure, and whether the project is a new construction or rehabilitation. In order to redeem the credits, the property must rent either 20 percent or more of the units to tenants whose incomes are at or below 50 percent or less of the area median gross income, or 40 percent or more of the units to tenants whose incomes are at or below 60 percent or less of the area median gross income. The property must fulfill these and other operational requirements for a 15-year compliance period. Failure to meet these requirements during the compliance period results in an IRS recapture of tax credits plus interest and penalties. Many states offer their own affordable housing tax credits to provide further incentives by increasing potential returns. Projects in certain areas (Difficult Development Areas) receive a 30 percent increase in qualified basis as well.
Options for Investment in LIHTC
LIHTC transactions are structured such that the developer manages the day-to-day operation of the property while the investor takes a passive role in management and collects virtually all the tax credits. The parties create a limited partnership or limited liability company where the investor is typically a 99.99% limited partner or non-managing member and the developer is a 0.01% general partner or managing member. This method shields investors from liability beyond their capital contributions and allows the developer to maintain control over management affairs. There are two methods of investing in LIHTCs. The first is a direct investment or private placement, where the investor purchases the rights to future tax credits from a single developer in return for an equity contribution. The developer and investor...
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