HUD Goes All-In on OZs

By Anthony Luzzi

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act created a new tax incentive known as Qualified Opportunity Funds, to spur new investment in low-income communities located in certain Census Tracts that are designated by the Secretary of the Treasury as Opportunity Zones, or OZs. There are approximately 8,700 OZs nationwide and in the US Territories, including Puerto Rico, where approximately 94% of La Isla Encantada qualifies.

We’ll leave it up to the legions of lawyers and accumulation of accountants to describe the mechanics of investing in Opportunity Funds and how private investments in these OZs are eligible for potentially significant capital gains tax relief. But we can tell you about some of HUD’s recent initiatives to promote development and investment in OZs through its multifamily mortgage insurance programs.

HUD has designated specialized Senior Underwriters in each region of the country to process applications for mortgage insurance for properties in qualified OZs. This will ensure expert and expedient review of these applications by HUD underwriters.

Properties located in qualified OZs will be eligible for reduced mortgage insurance application fees. Market-rate and affordable deals will see their application fees reduced by 33%, from .3% to .2%. “Broadly affordable” deals will have a steeper 66% discount on its application fees, as they will be reduced from .30% to .10%. What’s a broadly affordable project? They have at least 90% of units covered by a Section 8 Project Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) contract; or at least 90% of its units covered by an affordability use restriction under the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.

Last summer, HUD Secretary Carson announced that the Section 220 mortgage insurance program, historically used to finance mixed-use rental projects in specially-designated “downtown” urban-renewal areas and other areas where local governments have undertaken designated revitalization activities, will now be available in all of the approximately 8,700 Opportunity Zones.

The introduction of Section 220 into all Opportunity Zones has the potential to be a game-changer, as HUD expects it will promote more economic activity, both commercial and residential, in low-income, economically distressed areas that have not experienced a great deal of growth in recent years.

Section 220 underwrites similarly to HUD’s “mainstream” Section 221(d)(4) program for multifamily new construction and substantial rehabilitation. Both have 40-year loan amortizations, loan-to-cost ratios ranging from 85% to 90%, and debt service coverage ratios from 1.11 to 1.17. Both programs limit the maximum amount of commercial space to 25% of the total project area, but under Section 220, the maximum amount of commercial income in a project can be 30% of the total income, double the Section 221(d)(4) limit. In addition, under Section 220, 20% of the cost of project’s non-residential components can be added to the calculation of the mortgage based on statutory unit limitations; the Section 221(d)(4) limit had been 15% until recently, when it was increased to 20%.

We applaud the intent of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to spur economic development in disadvantaged communities, and HUD’s efforts to maximize the impact of the Act through its multifamily mortgage insurance programs. We are currently developing a mortgage insurance application for a Louisiana rental project in an urban area that also is designated an OZ. Keep tuned to this space for updates on this deal.