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What is LIHTC? A Comprehensive Guide

What is LIHTC

Affordable housing is a critical issue that affects communities across the United States. To address this issue, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program was established. 

In this article, we will delve into the complexities of LIHTC, understand its purpose, eligibility requirements, application process, benefits, challenges, and more. 

Let us embark on a journey to explore how LIHTC is making affordable housing a reality for countless individuals and families in need.

What is LIHTC?

LIHTC is a federal tax credit program aimed at increasing the availability of affordable housing options. 

LIHTC provides an incentive for private developers and investors to build, rehabilitate, or preserve rental housing for low-income individuals and families. 

This program was created under the Tax Reform Act of 1986 as a response to the increasing need for affordable housing across the country. 

Since its inception, LIHTC has become the largest source of funding for affordable housing in the United States.

Eligibility and Requirements

To qualify for LIHTC, individuals or families must meet the income requirements specified by the program. 

These requirements vary depending on the specific project and the local area median income (AMI) levels. Generally, LIHTC is targeted towards households with incomes at or below 60% of the AMI. 

Additionally, LIHTC properties must adhere to certain affordability restrictions in terms of rent levels and tenant income certification, ensuring that low-income households benefit from the program.

LIHTC process

Process of Obtaining the LIHTC

Obtaining the LIHTC involves a multi-step process that begins with the developer submitting an application to the state housing agency. 

The state agency reviews the applications, considering factors such as the project’s feasibility, community impact, and alignment with state priorities. 

Once approved, the LIHTC allocation is awarded to the developer, who can then sell these credits to investors to generate funding for the affordable housing project. 

The Internal Revenue Service monitors the compliance and reporting obligations to ensure that the project remains in compliance with LIHTC regulations.

Benefits of LIHTC

Affordable Housing Creation

LIHTC plays a pivotal role in addressing the shortage of affordable housing options. Since its inception, LIHTC has facilitated the creation of millions of affordable housing units across the country. 

These housing units provide safe and affordable homes for low-income individuals and families who would otherwise struggle to find suitable housing. 

The program has been instrumental in increasing the supply of affordable rental housing, offering a lifeline for many vulnerable communities.

Economic Stimulus

Beyond providing much-needed housing, LIHTC also serves as an economic stimulus. The construction and maintenance of LIHTC properties generate employment opportunities, contributing to job creation in local communities. 

Various industries benefit from the increased demand for materials, labor, and services during the development and ongoing operations of affordable housing projects. This economic ripple effect helps foster healthy and thriving communities.

Housing Stability and Community Development

Access to affordable housing promotes stability and enhances the overall well-being of individuals and families. 

By offering secure, affordable homes, LIHTC programs enable households to allocate more of their income towards other essential needs, such as healthcare, education, and savings. 

Moreover, affordable housing initiatives strengthen communities by providing stable foundations for residents to build their lives. 

When people have access to affordable housing, it fosters social cohesion, supports local businesses, and cultivates a sense of belonging.

LIHTC program

Challenges and Criticisms of LIHTC

Limited Funding and High Demand

One of the major challenges facing the LIHTC program is the mismatch between the demand for affordable housing and the limited funding available. 

The pressing need for affordable housing often surpasses the allocated LIHTC funds, resulting in the inability to meet the scale of demand. 

This issue highlights the need for increased investment in affordable housing programs to bridge the gap and ensure that more low-income individuals and families have access to safe and affordable homes.

Allocation and Distribution Issues

LIHTC credits are distributed among states, which can lead to disparities in allocation. Some states receive a greater share of credits compared to others, resulting in uneven availability of affordable housing options. 

This distribution issue can exacerbate existing inequalities, potentially concentrating poverty in specific areas. 

The debate continues on how to improve the allocation and distribution process to ensure a fair and equitable system that benefits all communities in need.

Cost-effectiveness and Effectiveness

Critics have raised concerns about the cost-effectiveness and long-term effectiveness of the LIHTC program. 

While LIHTC has undoubtedly played a crucial role in expanding affordable housing, questions arise regarding the extent to which it efficiently utilizes resources. 

Evaluating the program’s cost-effectiveness and impact on addressing the affordable housing crisis is vital for determining its future trajectory and making necessary adjustments to maximize its effectiveness.

LIHTC vs the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program

LIHTC and the Section 8 Housing Voucher program are both government initiatives aimed at providing affordable housing options for low-income individuals and families. 

However, they have different approaches and operate under different regulations.

The LIHTC, or Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, is a tax incentive program administered by state housing finance agencies. It encourages private developers to construct or rehabilitate rental housing for low-income individuals by providing tax credits. 

These tax credits are then sold to investors, who use them to reduce their federal tax liability. In return, the developers must reserve a certain percentage of the units in the property for low-income tenants, with rent levels set at affordable rates.

On the other hand, the Section 8 Housing Voucher program, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher program, is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

It provides rental assistance to eligible low-income individuals and families. Under this program, tenants receive a voucher that allows them to find suitable housing in the private market. 

The voucher covers a portion of the rent, and the tenant is responsible for paying the remaining amount. The rental assistance is provided directly to the landlord on behalf of the tenant.

While both programs aim to provide affordable housing, there are some key differences.

rental assistance


LIHTC relies on the sale of tax credits to private investors to finance the construction or rehabilitation of affordable rental housing. The Section 8 Housing Voucher program relies on federal funding to subsidize rental payments for eligible participants.

Tenant Eligibility

LIHTC properties typically have income limits based on the area median income, and residents must meet these income requirements. 

The Section 8 Housing Voucher program also has income eligibility requirements, but households can apply for vouchers regardless of their income level, as long as they meet other criteria such as citizenship or eligible immigration status.

Rental Units

LIHTC properties are typically designated affordable for a specific period, usually 15 or 30 years. 

After that period, the restrictions on rent levels may no longer apply. In contrast, the Section 8 Housing Voucher program allows participants to seek housing from private landlords, who agree to accept the voucher and abide by program regulations. 

The rental assistance is ongoing as long as the tenant remains eligible and the unit meets program requirements.

It’s important to note that there may be additional nuances and variations in both programs depending on specific state or local regulations. Consult official sources and local housing agencies for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does LIHTC differ from other affordable housing programs?

LIHTC differs from other affordable housing programs in that it utilizes tax credits to incentivize private developers and investors. 

Unlike other programs such as Section 8 Housing Vouchers, LIHTC focuses on the construction, rehabilitation, and preservation of rental housing for low-income individuals and families.

Can LIHTC be used for renovations and rehabilitation of existing properties?

Yes. This aspect of LIHTC allows for the preservation of affordable housing units by incorporating LIHTC into renovation projects, developers can ensure that these properties remain affordable for low-income households.

What are the income limits to qualify for LIHTC?

The income limits to qualify for LIHTC vary depending on the area median income (AMI) levels. Generally, LIHTC targets households with incomes at or below 60% of the AMI. 

However, specific income eligibility requirements can vary based on the state and the project.


The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program has emerged as a powerful tool in addressing the affordable housing crisis in the United States. 

By providing tax incentives and promoting public-private partnerships, LIHTC has facilitated the creation of millions of affordable housing units and made a significant impact on communities. 

However, challenges such as limited funding and allocation disparities persist, necessitating ongoing efforts to improve and expand the program. 

By understanding the intricacies of LIHTC, advocating for its enhancements, and channeling resources towards affordable housing, we can work together to make affordable and safe housing a reality for all Americans.