HOW WE’RE CREATING HOUSING ACCOMMODATION FOR AMERICA’S WORKING FAMILIES
By Jeremy Feakins
Having a safe place to shelter is one of the most basic human needs. It’s something many of us take for granted, and yet millions of America’s working families are struggling to put a roof over their heads. The United States is facing a critical housing shortage, but the 500,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night are only the tip of the iceberg.
America’s working families and critical housing shortages
For many Americans, housing costs are a budget-straining burden at best, an unsustainable albatross at worst. If you’ve ever bought or rented a home, you’ll be familiar with the rule that you should keep housing costs within 30% of your income. That’s a battle around half of all renters in the United States are losing. In fact, data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has shown millions of working Americans, including 75% of extremely low income families, see more than 50% of their income swallowed up by rent payments.
The NLIHC says that the U.S. needs to create 6.8 million housing units to combat this critical housing shortage, which extends across every state in the nation. In order to boost the supply of rental housing, the Biden Administration requested $500 million in additional spending on the HOME Investment Partnerships Program for fiscal year 2022. However, much more action is needed to address the critical housing shortage and the compounding effects it has on American working families and their communities.
Who are America’s working families?
Working families are the backbone of communities, the beating heart and the soul of the country. America’s working families come from diverse backgrounds and reflect a spectrum of professions and occupations. They are recent graduates, nurses, hospitality workers, police officers, firefighters, teachers, construction workers, and people from many other trades. According to 2020 data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 65 million (78.2%) of the country’s 83.1 million families include at least one employed person. Thirty-three million of those families include at least one child under the age of 18.
Of the 44 million renter households in the United States, working families account for around 36%. These families are hurting deeply from the critical housing shortage, and they deserve better. These Americans work hard to support their families, take care of their aging parents and grandparents, and raise the next generation. Working families shouldn’t be facing a monthly battle just to ensure they can put a roof over their heads, but the problem is more corrosive than the struggles of any individual family. The critical housing shortage doesn’t just do a disservice to working families, it damages our communities and prevents America from realizing its full potential.
The promise of opportunity zones
What are opportunity zones?
Opportunity zones were created as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to encourage long-term private investments in federally designated low-income urban and rural communities nationwide. The opportunity zone program is intended to stimulate economic growth in distressed areas by providing tax benefits to investors.
How they can help address the critical housing shortage
Opportunity zones are designed to spur economic development and job creation in distressed communities. A key plank of the opportunity zone program involves drawing private investment into neighborhoods that have experienced chronic disinvestment and under-investment. Investors place their capital gains from the sale of assets into Qualified Opportunity Funds which, in turn, direct those monies into Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZs). By allowing investors to defer taxes on eligible gains, QOFs offer a compelling investment opportunity and simultaneously a means of raising capital that can be reinvested in opportunity zones.
QOFs can also play a role in addressing the critical housing shortage via targeted, strategic investment in the rental housing market. By identifying and acquiring properties in low-income areas that can be redeveloped as rental properties, QOFs can create additional quality housing stock suited to the needs and budget of working families living in opportunity zones. Easing the supply bottleneck is a critical step in tackling the critical housing shortage, not only in terms of simply meeting demand, but also ensuring that America’s working families have access to housing that doesn’t strain their budgets.
How does OZFund help?
OZFund is a community-focused QOF dedicated to addressing the critical housing shortage by revitalizing working family neighborhoods in Central Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic QOZs. OZFund addresses the housing shortage in low-income areas by acquiring below-market properties and redeveloping them as rental housing for working families. At the same time, OZFund offers taxpayers an investment opportunity with attractive tax advantages.
Work has already started on OZFund’s first project, involving conversion of an under-utilized property in Lancaster, PA into a mixed-use asset, with 72 rental units and commercial real estate space. Additionally, OZFund has identified three additional Central Pennsylvania opportunity zone properties for potential redevelopment. These will be acquired as soon as fundraising goals are achieved.
Investing with OZFund
OZFund is targeting an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 16% for investors, as well as attractive tax benefits. We anticipate that as properties are redeveloped and rented to working families, they will appreciate in value, with potential for eventual building sales to boost investor income.
OZFund is currently raising funds with a view to acquiring the properties that will form the basis of the next three projects. Contact us to learn more about investing in OZFund’s opportunity zone projects and to play your part in ending the critical housing shortage facing America’s working families.
The Critical Housing Shortage for America’s Working Families
By Jeremy Feakins
With fires raging, a pandemic surging, and social and economic upheaval still simmering, home is more important now than ever before. Yet, securing a home has emerged as a near-impossible task for many American households. One in 7 households spends at least half of their income on housing.
People don’t actively choose to spend more money than they can afford on their homes—there are simply not enough homes available in their price range. To afford to rent or own a home, many families are forced to live far away from work. Or they might overspend on housing, to the detriment of their health, children’s education, and/or financial future.
The lack of available housing for America’s working families is an urgent problem. Retirement savings suffer. Families suffer. Local economies suffer. In this post, we’ll explain what the critical housing shortage is, why it matters, and what you can do about it.
Who are America’s working families?
We consider America’s working families to be those who make less than $120,000 per year. They make up the majority of Americans—recent graduates, police officers, teachers, janitors, food service workers, etc. These are people that hold jobs, even professional jobs, but they still depend on work for monthly living expenses and generally live paycheck-to-paycheck.
While the median household income for American households was $68,703 in 2019, that number can be deceiving. Big metropolitan areas where low-wage jobs flourish often offer the highest housing costs and the lowest vacancy rates for rental units.
The problem for many of these hard-working families is that they often suffer through long commute times just to get to their jobs every day. And if they suddenly lose a job, they may lose their home, too. If that happens, they may spiral into a cycle of bad debt or even homelessness.
Why is there a critical housing shortage?
The reasons behind today’s housing shortage are complex. But three main culprits keep swimming to the surface: income inequality, housing costs, and demand for housing.
Rising income inequality
It’s no secret that wages have been stagnant for years, and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. For households of color, that gap is widening at a much faster rate. Overall income inequality is higher now than 50 years ago.
In large metropolitan areas, the majority of low-income Americans live and work in industries like travel and hospitality. These jobs pay less and are more vulnerable to layoffs, which makes safe, consistent housing less secure.
Rising cost of housing
Home prices, especially for single-family homes, are rising faster than wages. It would be easy to blame developers for this rising cost, but they face high costs as well.
Low-density zoning restrictions, parking requirements, high development fees, building materials, and the land itself—which costs 56% more now than in 2012—all contribute to increasing home prices.
Rising demand for housing
With mortgage interest rates at historic lows, many millennials have been competing to buy houses. The demand has inflated prices, making it nearly impossible for many families to buy a house. So, they remain trapped in renting.
In addition to increased prices, barriers like supply shortages, down payment costs, mortgage insurance premiums, and credit requirements have made it nearly impossible for America’s working families to buy homes.
Why does the critical housing shortage matter?
The housing shortage is not just a humanitarian concern. It is also a broader economic one due to the following.
Reduced employee productivity
As housing remains out of reach for many working metropolitan families, those families move further away from city centers where better-paying jobs exist. Long commutes affect well-being and productivity.
As a result, working families have a choice. They can put up with long commutes or move to an economically distressed area with fewer employment or education opportunities.
Reduced business development
Long commutes also contribute to high employee turnover, which impacts a business’ bottom line. Areas with higher-paying jobs can’t attract or retain workers because those workers can’t afford housing nearby.
A faltering labor pool affects a regional economy’s ability to attract new businesses or even expand existing ones. If a regional economy isn’t able to grow or at least maintain the status quo, the talent pool shrinks, and the labor market contracts.
Reduced family financial resources
Families spending more on housing have less to spend on healthcare, save for retirement, invest in education, or recover from disaster. If they can’t take advantage of public transit options, car expenses further inhibit their financial prosperity.
These seemingly personal issues are all a matter of public policy. The less families can care for themselves, the more they become a burden to society. Household debt rises, investments and spending decrease.
How can investing in Opportunity Zones help?
By investing in Opportunity Zones, you can help distressed communities as well as defer or avoid taxes. Here’s how.
Help distressed communities
You can help spur economic growth in distressed communities. As housing prices become more manageable for America’s working families, their time and financial resources are freed up to contribute to the economy. They produce more, get paid more, spend more, and save more. As a result, regions attract new business, leading to job growth.
Defer or eliminate taxes
If you invest your capital gains from the sale of capital assets (stocks, bonds, real estate, or businesses) into a Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF), you can advantage of significant tax benefits. Your QOF investment means a deferral of your capital gains taxes, while a long-term hold (at least 10 years) can lead to additional tax optimization strategies.
Start making a difference now
The housing shortage is a crisis that needs to be addressed. It affects the majority of families in the United States and will only get worse without change. Contact the OZFund to learn more about how you can help address this problem, while receiving tax deferral benefits.
We prepared this short video explaining our rental apartments/commercial space project in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Zoning approval has been received and we are marching forward with all the things we need to prepare for building permits!
$15M MIXED-USE PROJECT SECURES ZONING APPROVALS
A roughly $15 million mixed-use project in southern Lancaster city cleared key zoning hurdles this week.
- The city’s zoning board on Monday night unanimously approved a raft of variances for the project, shown above, which is designed to create affordable housing.
- “It’s critically in short supply,” said the developer, Lancaster businessman Jeremy P. Feakins, who said he has owned the site — at 800 S. Queen St. — since 2006.
- Feakins has long sought to redevelop the tract, formerly home of a store called Rebmans.
- But his plans gained momentum when the site was included in a tax-incentive area known as an Opportunity Zone, a program established by the Trump administration’s signature tax law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
- “It encourages developers to invest in distressed neighborhoods and turn buildings which are like ours into something nice for the benefit of the community,” said Feakins, a serial entrepreneur who was born and raised in England. He first came to Lancaster in the 1980s.
What’s the project: A new four-story building at the southwest corner of South Queen and Furnace streets, at the southern edge of Lancaster. The project manager is Professional Design & Construction Inc. based in Landisville.
- The building is slated to include 72 affordable apartments with rents that would be within reach of people earning less than 80% of the area’s median income. Affordable housing is typically defined as costing no more than 30% of income.
- The project could also bring a cafe, a small grocery and a medical/health care tenant to a section of the city where commerce is sparse, said Feakins, who works out of an office in a corner of the site.
- His office would be converted into a day care, while an existing small warehouse would be demolished.
- The zoning variances granted this week cover building height, setbacks, tenant mix, tree spacing and parking spaces. Officials agreed to allow fewer than the required number of spaces.
- The extra height — about 10 feet — is needed to accommodate stairs leading to a planned roof garden that tenants can use to grow vegetables, flowers and other plants.
What’s next: More development work is needed before construction begins, which may not be until 2022, Feakins said. But the zoning approvals could help spur interest from investors.
- Feakins said he is hoping to raise about $4 million from private investors, including himself, and borrow the remainder.
- Some investors may wait for other milestones, like the issuance of building permit, he said. “But zoning is the big one, in my experience anyway,” he added.
- Feakins is chairman of Lancaster-based Ocean Thermal Energy Corp., which is developing technology to produce renewable energy and clean water. His development company is called OZ Fund Inc.
The bottom line: The South Queen Street project is one of only a handful of Central Pennsylvania projects taking advantage of the Opportunity Zone program. People with capital gains can lower their taxes by plowing their gains into Opportunity Zone projects.
- Feakins said he is hoping to undertake other projects in Lancaster, as well as in York.
- “There’s another city that needs affordable housing. Harrisburg does, too,” he said.
$15M REBMAN’S REDEVELOPMENT GET ZONING OK, 2023 OPENING EXPECTED
On Monday, the board’s three members unanimously – and enthusiastically — approved the six variances and one special exception that Feakins sought. The 1.4-acre parcel is zoned
The $15 million mixed-use project at 800 S. Queen St., unveiled last year by local entrepreneur Jeremy Feakins, also would have a medical clinic, grocery/general store, a café, a day care center and a yet-to-be-determined commercial use.
I applaud the goal of this project,” said board member Bob Shenk. “That part of the city is really lacking in pretty much everything, and services especially.”