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Oregon senator aims at provisions into a $3.5 trillion budget plan that awaits detailed work in Congress.

FILE - Sen. Ron Wyden speaks during a town hall event in St. Helens in 2019.As Congress prepares to fill in the details of its $3.5 trillion budget resolution, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden wants to secure a few dollars for more vouchers and more housing for low- and middle-income families.

The Oregon Democrat leads the Senate Finance Committee, which will have a hand in shaping the tax provisions to be included in the resolution. Wyden wants to expand the existing low-income housing tax credit, create a parallel tax credit to spur construction of middle-income housing, and provide more federal money for housing choice vouchers.

In a brief interview Friday, Sept. 3, after conducting virtual town hall meetings for Yamhill and Columbia counties, Wyden said issues of housing availability and cost are not limited to the Portland metro area, but extend to most of Oregon.

According to 2020 Census numbers, the state's population grew 10.6% to 4.2 million, but housing units increased by 8.2%.

He said the issues will not be resolved with a single piece of legislation, such as the budget resolution, which is likely to require every single Democrat in a Congress with thin Democratic majorities. But he has labeled his proposal the Decent, Affordable and Safe Housing (DASH) Act.

"What I am targeting for the fall is making sure we move aggressively in the first phase," he said. "For each homeless child in America, I want to get a roof over their heads and a floor under their feet in five years."

He promoted the proposal Sept. 1 at the Family Village Shelter of Portland Homeless Family Solutions in Southeast Portland.

A pre-pandemic survey disclosed that nearly half of all Oregon renters are "cost burdened," paying more than the 30% of household income that the federal government considers "affordable," and nearly one in four renters pay 50% or more of their incomes for rent.

Wyden said one woman told him that between rent, day care for a special-needs child and tending to elderly parents requiring chemotherapy, she doesn't have much left for anything else.

"It seems to me that health care, child care and housing offer a triangle of economic challenges," he said. "A country as wealthy as ours can put together a blueprint that meets the housing needs of our people."

Wyden said housing choice vouchers must be supplemented with new housing construction for low- and middle-income families.

A tax credit for low-income housing was created in the 1986 federal tax code overhaul led by Wyden's Republican predecessor, Bob Packwood. State housing agencies — including the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department — allocate tax credits to developers, who sell them to investors. Investors use them to reduce their federal tax liability for 15 years, and developers spend the proceeds for housing project costs.

Typically, such housing is intended for families earning 60% or less of area median income.

Wyden said the proposed tax credit for middle-income housing would work in much the same way. But 60% of the new units would have to be "affordable" for families earning less than 100% of the area median income — and that status would have to be preserved for 30 years.

"This picks up where the other credit leaves off," he said. "It doesn't take the low-income credit away; it complements it."

President Joe Biden has proposed a different expansion of the low-income housing tax credit. Instead of the nation's two largest federal home mortgage agencies having an overall cap of $1 billion annually in credits, Biden has proposed to raise the cap to $1.7 billion — from $500 million to $850 million each for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

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