- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Calling homelessness and affordable housing a major challenge nationwide, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell joined mayors across Puget Sound on Thursday to urge more resources for a federal tax credit program to build low-income housing.

The Washington state Democrat said a 50 percent increase in the federal low-income housing tax credit is needed to address the critical shortage of affordable housing across the country.

“We are going to push our colleagues to sign and support this legislation, and ultimately get it passed this year,” Cantwell said. “We know that’s a big challenge, but as you know can see the housing crisis is a big challenge.”

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and others joined Cantwell at Patrick Place in Seattle, a 71-unit apartment building for formerly homeless men and women. The project by the Catholic Housing Services of Western Washington received $7 million in federal tax credits.

Tenant Dennis Bateman described the many challenges he faced before finding a permanent home at Patrick Place.

“It feels like home to me now,” Bateman told a crowd. “Now I have a chance. I have a safe place.”

Cantwell and housing advocates said the tax credit is the most effective tool in getting affordable housing built in cities and states. Since it was created 30 years ago, the program has helped build nearly 3 million housing units nationwide. About 75,400 units were built in Washington state.

Stephanson said Everett has been struggling with homelessness and other street issues for years, but the city is now committed to increasing low-income housing units. “These tax credits are incredibly important,” he said, noting that 2,900 housing units have been built in his community using such credits.

“Cities cannot put their heads in the sand and pretend this isn’t a problem,” Stephanson added.

Murray said he declared an emergency on homelessness in Seattle last fall in part to ask for aid from the federal and state governments. He said the city has stepped up by passing housing levies, but that the federal tax credit used by nonprofit and private developers is still the largest resource for building low-income housing in Seattle.

“The city is far more expensive, and the challenge is far greater,” he said.

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