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Ben Carson touts incentives to get more low-income housing

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was in Las Vegas on Thursday to unveil two new incentives for developing affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods nationwide.

Speaking at the SALT Conference at the Bellagio, Carson said the government would slash fees and expedite the application process for those who build and rehabilitate apartments in low-income areas designated as Opportunity Zones.

The federal program allows investors to reduce and defer capital gains taxes if they reinvest the money in an Opportunity Zone.

“That’s really the key, creating advantages for private developers to come in,” Carson said after the conference during a meeting with the Review-Journal’s editorial board. “There is so much more money in the private sector than there is in the government, it’s not even close.”

The incentives debuted Thursday include lowering application fees for certain apartment mortgage insurance programs — from $3 to $1 per thousand dollars of the requested mortgage amount — and designating underwriters to expedite the application process.

“One of the complaints in the past has been it takes so long to get anything done. You’re frequently talking not just weeks. You’re frequently talking years,” Carson said. “I’m not sure how fast it can be done because no one has ever concentrated before on doing it fast, quite frankly.”

The incentives are the latest step in Carson’s strategy of addressing the nation’s affordable housing crisis by encouraging public-private partnerships, reducing fees and loosening government regulations.

“My general approach is let the market work,” he said.

On Thursday, Carson said he approved of state tax credit programs mirroring a federal one aimed at encouraging investment in affordable rental housing. The Nevada Legislature is considering creating such a program here.

And Carson reiterated his commitment to the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, which allows aging public housing to be rehabilitated or rebuilt by transferring it to the private sector. Low-income residents would get first crack at living in the homes.

“I would like to see all public housing converted,” Carson said.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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