Skip to content
CityLab
Government

Why Affordable Housing Isn’t More Affordable

Local regulations—and the NIMBY sentiments behind them—are a big driver of costs of low-income housing developers. Why don’t we know exactly how much?
An apartment complex outside Dallas, Texas, where low-income housing is cheap to build.
An apartment complex outside Dallas, Texas, where low-income housing is cheap to build.Tony Gutierrez/AP

The low-slung apartment buildings that line the streets of Houston, Fort Worth, and other Lone Star cities are some of the cheapest affordable housing projects to build anywhere. Two-story jobbers in Texas cost a whole lot less to build with housing tax credits than affordable mid-rises in California or New England. Where land prices are higher, it’s more expensive to build affordable housing.

These are a few of the not-exactly-earth-shattering conclusions of a long-awaited report on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, the country’s main engine for generating new affordable housing. Released this week by the Government Accountability Office, the report finds that these housing tax credits, or LIHTCs, have financed some 50,000 affordable units every year since 2010. On average, affordable rental units built with tax credits in Texas cost two-and-a-half times less ($126,000) than the average in California ($326,000).