I. What Is the LIHTC?
The LIHTC program was established as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and is commonly referred to as section 42, the applicable section of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). The LIHTC program provides tax incentives to encourage individual and corporate investors to invest in the development, acquisition, and rehabilitation of affordable rental housing. 2 The LIHTC is an indirect federal subsidy that finances low-income housing. This allows investors to claim tax credits on their federal income tax returns. The tax credit is calculated as a percentage of costs incurred in developing the affordable housing property, and is claimed annually over a 10-year period. Some investors 3 may garner additional tax benefits 4 by making LIHTC investments. 5
The equity raised with LIHTCs can be used for newly constructed and substantially rehabilitated and affordable rental-housing properties for low-income households, and for the acquisition of such properties in acquisition/rehabilitation deals. LIHTCs provide equity equal to the present value of either 30 percent (referred to in this report as the 4 percent credit) or 70 percent (referred to as the 9 percent credit) of the eligible costs of a low-income housing project, depending in part on whether tax-exempt bonds are used to finance the project.
To qualify for the credit, a project must meet the requirements of a qualified low-income project. Project sponsors/developers (project sponsors) are required to set aside at least 40 percent of the units for renters earning no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income (the 40/60 test) or 20 percent of the units for renters earning 50 percent or less of the area’s median income (the 20/50 test).6 These units are subject to rent restrictions such that the maximum permissible gross rent, including an allowance for utilities, must be less than 30 percent of imputed income based on an area’s median income.7
State selection procedures for tax credit allocations often encourage project sponsors to provide more than the minimum number of affordable units and greater than the minimum level of affordability. Because these credits are available only for affordable rental units, many applications designate 100 percent of units in properties as affordable and reserve some units for renters earning well below 50 percent of the area median income.8
The LIHTC program works as follows. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allocates federal tax credits to state housing credit agencies (HCA) based on each state’s population. In the case of 9 percent credits, project sponsors (who hold general partner interests in the final ownership entities of developments) of proposed low-income housing projects apply through a competitive process for allocations of tax credits from state HCAs. The state agencies award LIHTCs for qualified affordable housing projects based on point systems reflecting each state’s priorities for the desired type, location, and ownership of affordable housing. Project sponsors use the tax credits to raise equity from private investors. The equity investment reduces the debt burden on the tax credit property, making it financially feasible to offer lower, more affordable rents. Often institutional investors such as banks use the tax credits and real estate losses to lower their federal tax liabilities.
Once a property is placed into service, the tax credits are claimed annually over a 10-year period; however, the project must satisfy specific low-income housing compliance rules for the full 15-year compliance period. If the project fails to comply with LIHTC program rules during the 15-year compliance period, the IRS may recapture previously claimed credits. The property must remain affordable for at least 30 years; however, after the initial 15-year compliance period ends, the IRS may not recapture the tax credits.9 Investors may exit the partnership at any time and not face recapture of tax credits as long as the property continues to operate as affordable housing through the end of year 15. Most often, investors exit between year 11 and 16, having collected tax credits for 10 years or more.
Project sponsors structure LIHTC projects as limited partnerships or limited liability companies10 to limit financial risk exposure for investors. This structure allows tax credit benefits and real estate losses to pass through to investors.11 The investment in an LIHTC- financed project occurs in one of two ways: by a direct investment in a single project through a partnership, as shown in figure 1, or by an investment in a syndicated LIHTC- equity fund, as shown in figure 2.
Figure 1 illustrates the typical legal structure for a direct investment in an LIHTC- financed project. The project sponsor/developer applies to a state HCA for an LIHTC allocation for a specific affordable housing project. If approved, the tax credits are allocated to the affordable housing project. The tax credits provide an incentive for equity investors. The project sponsor offers investors an ownership interest in the affordable housing project. When making a direct investment, an investor acquires all or a portion of the 99.99 percent ownership in the partnership. While having an ownership interest, the investor has no management authority. The direct investor receives tax credits and real estate losses through the partnership in proportion to the investor’s ownership interest in the project.
Figure 1: Typical Legal Structure for Direct Investment in LIHTC-Financed Project
Figure 2 illustrates the typical legal structure for an investment in a syndicated LIHTC- equity fund. The syndicator organizes one or more investors and forms an investment fund, and the fund invests in one or more affordable housing projects. Thus, a two-tier partnership structure is created with funds from investors combining in the upper-tier investment partnership and funds from pooled equity financing multiple, lower-tier property partnerships. Investors hold 99.99 percent ownership of the investment fund; the syndicator, as general partner or managing member, holds 0.01 percent ownership.
Figure 2 illustrates the investment fund’s investment in three lower-tier property partnerships (projects AHP 1, AHP 2, and AHP 3). Each property partnership receives an LIHTC allocation from a state HCA and then uses those credits to attract investors.
As a result of its investment, the fund holds 99.99 percent ownership in each project; the developer/general partner of each property holds 0.01 percent ownership. The tax credits flow from the lower-tier partnerships to the upper-tier partnership, where investors share the credits based on their ownership proportion in the fund.
Figure 2: Typical Legal Structure for Investment in a Syndicated LIHTC-Equity Fund
Equity funds offer LIHTC investors lower barriers of entry because syndicators often set minimum investment amounts lower than the minimums required for direct investments. In multi-investor funds, minimum investments start at about $1 million, while regional funds focused on community banks and smaller corporations may have lower investment minimums. Across the nation, national, state, and regional LIHTC funds are available to investors.12
Equity funds offer investors different risk/reward profiles in terms of pooled investments, portfolio diversity, the syndicator’s expertise in finding and financing quality projects, and lower administrative overhead. Section IV discusses the risks of LIHTC investments.
2 Tax Reform Act of 1986, Public Law 99-514, 100 Stat 2085, HR 3838, 99th Congress, 2nd Session, October 22, 1986. For the LIHTC provisions, see UL26 IRC 42. Because LIHTCs are commonly known as housing tax credits or tax credits, these terms are used interchangeably in this report. The LIHTC program became permanent under the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993.
3 Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Handbook, Novogradac & Co., sections 2.1 and 2.17, 2011.The number of taxpayers who can benefit from LIHTCs is limited by passive activity and alternative minimum tax rules. Widely held corporations are not subject to the passive loss rules and, as such, are, according to the author, ideal investors in low-income housing tax credit projects.
4 The return on the LIHTC investment can include (1) the stream of LIHTCs, (2) periodic distributions of funds from operations, (3) distribution upon sale of the project, and (4) periodic allocations of gains and losses from the project, including depreciation deductions, operating gains or losses, and gains or losses attributed to a capital event. See Hykan, Wayne H., “Pricing the Equity of a Tax Credit Project,” Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law, vol. 5, no. 4, 1996.
5 For buildings placed in service after 2007, LIHTCs may be used to offset both ordinary taxes and the alternative minimum tax. See 26 IRC 38(c)(4).
6 In New York City, a special 25/60 test is used in lieu of the 40/60 test. See 26 IRC 42(g)(4) and 142(d)(6).
7 The calculation of rents for tax credit units is complicated because the imputed number of people per bedroom (i.e., 1.5 people) and the number of bedrooms in a unit are included. For more information on income limits, see www. huduser.org/portal/datasets/il.html. For LIHTC calculators, see www.novoco.com/products/rentincome.php and www. danter.com/TAXCREDIT/getrents.HTML.
8 For information on HUD’s LIHTC eligibility, see www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/affordablehousing/training/web/lihtc/basics/ eligibility.cfm.
9 For more information on noncompliance and the possible recapture of tax credits, see 26 IRC 42(j). There are no consequences for an original investor after the 15-year compliance period; however, the owner of the property is subject to legal action by the HCA in the event of noncompliance issues.
10 The term “partnership” refers to limited partnerships (LP) and limited liability companies (LLC).
11 Under federal income tax law, LIHTCs may be claimed only by property owners who have the benefits and burdens of ownership. This includes all partnerships (LPs, LLCs, and other equity investors) in the properties. For example, if a bank holds a 99.99 percent interest in a partnership, it receives 99.99 percent of the tax credits and real estate losses, which include, but are not limited to, depreciation and interest expenses.
12 One such example is the National Equity Fund, a syndicator of LIHTC and other tax credits. For more information, see www.nefinc.org. Across the nation, there are at least 30 local and state equity funds LIHTC-qualified to provide equity capital for rental housing developments. For information on these funds, visit the National Association of State and Local Equity Funds at www.naslef.org.
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