Healthy Building Practices In Qualified Allocation Plans

The health benefits to affordable housing are numerous—from mental well-being, alleviating overcrowding, and providing resources for health care. Only a handful of states, however, are using all the tools at their disposal to ensure affordable housing is constructed with public health and wellness in mind through the government’s largest initiative for developing affordable housing—the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. In a relationship that is inextricably linked, the inclusion of healthy products and materials is a necessary mechanism for building healthy, affordable homes for low-income families.

States can use funding from LIHTCs to signal that the health of individuals constructing and living in these buildings are of the utmost importance. Housing developments that prohibit or limit the use of harmful materials safeguard builders and residents from exposure to toxic chemicals that can have severe and long-term consequences. Inadequate housing and building materials—including insulation, paints and sealants; roofing problems, heating, plumbing and electrical deficiencies, water leaks and intrusion; and pests—can lead to health conditions such as respiratory illness, asthma, lead poisoning and cancer.

By setting requirements or rewarding points in QAPs for product and building certifications—or specific health and locality provisions—states can raise health standards in affordable housing.

States have broad discretion in administering LIHTCs through state designed qualified allocation plans (QAPs). A majority of QAPs include scoring criteria that award points for items like siting the building in a more desirable location, adding extra amenities, or meeting building health and sustainability standards above and beyond the state minimum requirements.

While states—typically through their housing finance agencies—must ensure that properties awarded tax credits abide by income eligibility and affordability requirements, they also have the responsibility to design QAPs that align with their policy goals. Through highlighting the use and need of healthy products that are locally-made, states can demonstrate their desire to improve affordable housing conditions, create jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The BlueGreen Alliance Foundation’s (BGAF) staff reviewed QAPs of all 50 states and the District of Columbia and analyzed the various types of policies in use across the country. We looked for requirements for third-party building certifications and health-specific policies, such as certifications for building products or requirements or incentives for non-toxic products. We also collected policies that incentivized or required local product sourcing. 46 states—and D.C. —met at least one of these thresholds, with Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky and West Virginia being the only states that do not require or incentivize any form of healthy or energy-efficient building practices in their QAPs, and at most only provide general non-binding guidelines.

The purpose of accumulating this information is to encourage states to incentivize buying healthy and locally-made products and strengthen their QAP guidelines to require rather than incentivize third-party certifications.