SAN FRANCISCO - BankAmerica Corp. has become the latest bank to make a major financial commitment to low-income housing projects, despite the fact that federal tax credits for such programs are now on the congressional chopping block.
On Friday, the bank announced plans to set up a $100 million equity fund that will be used to build low-income housing in many of the 10 states in which it operates full-service banks.
The bank also announced plans to contribute another $40 million to two low-income housing development programs it already supports, bringing to $316 million its total commitments to housing developments that qualify for the federal low-income housing tax credit, which was enacted in 1987.
This credit ensures that qualifying investments make at least a 12% to 15% return over 15 years, through a combination of federal income tax credits and deductions.
Proponents say the credit has been responsible for attracting the investment for nearly all the 800,000 low-income housing units built or renovated over the past eight years.
But Republicans have called the credit "corporate welfare," and have it slated for termination at the end of 1997 in the budget bill that Congress has passed but that President Clinton has threatened to veto.
BankAmerica, which calls itself one of the largest contributors to low- income housing funds, said it is opposed to congressional efforts to eliminate the credit.
BankAmerica executive vice president Donald A. Mullane said the bank has sent a letter to every member of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee saying the bank supports the program.
Without the low-income housing tax credit, "there would not be any construction of affordable housing in this country," Mr. Mullane said.
Karen Shaw Petrou, president of the Washington, D.C., consulting firm ISD/Shaw Inc., said the lobbying could be effective. "A big bank saying this is a tax credit that accomplishes its purpose should be persuasive," she said.
Other big contributors to low-income housing include Chemical Banking Corp. and Chase Manhattan Corp., which have announced plans to create a $375 million equity fund after their merger. Additionally, NationsBank Corp. created a $200 million fund nearly three years ago, said Mark Burneko, spokesman for the Enterprise Foundation, a nonprofit development group based in Columbia, Md., that is one of the biggest facilitators of such developments.
A unit of the Enterprise Foundation will administer BankAmerica's $100 million fund.
The fund is expected to be used to build as many has 4,000 low-income housing units. The funds will be available in California and Nevada, in addition to seven states where BankAmerica has not made investments in low-income housing before: Texas, Oregon, New Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, Nevada, and Idaho.
BankAmerica also recently committed $20 million to the California Equity Fund, which facilitates the construction of affordable housing in the state, as well as $20 million to the National Equity Fund, which sponsors similar developments nationally.
These groups make equity investments in multifamily housing projects where most of the tenants earn less than 60% of the average income for their area.
The equity investments normally constitute 40% to 50% of the cost of a project. Developers typically raise the rest of the money through loans from government agencies and banks, explained Stephen M. Porras, a vice president of the National Equity Fund. These loans are repaid with the rent the developer's collect.
The combination of tax credits and deductions allows bank sponsors to earn more in tax benefits than they spend in capital. Mr. Mullane said that BankAmerica figures it gets a return of 15% to 17% on its low-income housing tax credit investments.