Low-Income Housing Tax Credit:
Joint IRS-HUD Administration Could Help Address Weaknesses in Oversight
GAO-15-330: Published: Jul 15, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 23, 2015.
What GAO Found
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) oversight of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program has been minimal. Specifically, since 1986 IRS conducted seven audits of 56 state housing finance agencies (HFA) on which IRS relies to administer and oversee the program. (HFAs are state-chartered authorities established to meet affordable housing needs.) Federal internal control standards call for monitoring to be performed continually in the course of normal operations and be ingrained in agency operations. Oversight of HFAs has been minimal, partly because LIHTC is viewed as a peripheral program in IRS in terms of its mission and priorities for resources and staffing. Without such reviews, IRS cannot determine the extent of noncompliance and other issues at HFAs.
IRS jointly administers other programs: the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit with the National Park Service and the New Markets Tax Credit with the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund in the Department of the Treasury. The federal agencies that work with IRS to oversee these programs have missions consistent with the purposes of these programs; they also conduct monitoring, report on performance, and collect data. For example, officials of both agencies told GAO that staff routinely conduct site visits and other project reviews. In these cases, IRS also is able to benefit from the other federal agencies' policy and subject-matter expertise. Likewise, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) experience in administering affordable housing programs and working with HFAs may benefit IRS in its administration and oversight of the LIHTC program. More specifically, HUD relies on state and local housing agencies (including HFAs) to implement its programs and already has processes and procedures in place to oversee them. Although GAO and others have identified weakness in HUD's program evaluation and oversight activities, HUD has taken steps to address some of these issues and its existing processes and procedures constitute a framework on which further changes and improvement can be made. Moreover, IRS is not well positioned to oversee LIHTC. Since 1990, IRS has been on GAO's high-risk list due to significant capacity challenges and incomplete monitoring of tax law enforcement. IRS's budget has been reduced by 10 percent and enforcement program performance and staffing levels have declined since 2010.
Joint administration with HUD could better align program responsibilities with each agency's mission and more efficiently address existing oversight challenges. Under joint administration, IRS could retain responsibilities consistent with its mission (as it does in the other two tax credit programs). For example, IRS could continue to enforce taxpayer compliance. Assigning oversight responsibilities to HUD could involve additional resources for HUD. For LIHTC and the other two programs, GAO found that each used different mechanisms to fund administrative responsibilities. For instance, Historic Rehabilitation uses fees to fund its program, including oversight, while New Markets requests funding through annual appropriations. The level of resources that would be needed to perform an adequate level of oversight of HFAs is not known. An estimate of potential costs and funding options for financing enhanced federal oversight of the LIHTC program could benefit the agency involved and provide useful information to Congress.
Why GAO Did This Study
The LIHTC program, established under the Tax Reform Act of 1986, is the largest source of federal assistance for developing affordable rental housing and cost an estimated $8 billion in forgone revenue in 2014. LIHTC encourages private equity investment in low-income housing through tax credits. HFAs receive an annual allocation of tax credits and competitively award the credits to owners of qualified projects. GAO was asked to review the administration and oversight of the program. This report addresses, among other things, (1) IRS oversight of LIHTC and (2) how LIHTC administration and oversight compare with that of other tax credit programs. GAO reviewed regulations and guidance for monitoring HFAs and taxpayers; analyzed information on IRS audits of HFAs; reviewed selected programs that award tax credits similarly to LIHTC; and interviewed IRS, HUD, and HFA officials.
What GAO Recommends
Congress should consider designating HUD as a joint administrator of the program. HUD's role should include oversight responsibilities (such as regular monitoring of HFAs) to help address deficiencies GAO identified. Treasury agreed HUD could be responsible for analyzing the effectiveness of LIHTC, with IRS continuing to enforce tax law. HUD and IRS did not comment on the matter for congressional consideration. HUD supported consideration of a structure for enhanced interagency coordination. The association representing HFAs disagreed with the matter. GAO maintains that joint administration would strengthen program oversight.
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Matter for Congressional Consideration
Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.
Matter: To better align program goals with agency missions and improve program administration and oversight, Congress should consider designating the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a joint administrator of the program responsible for oversight. As part of the deliberation, Congress also should direct HUD to estimate the costs to monitor and perform the additional oversight responsibilities, including a discussion of funding options.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Comments: In response to this recommendation, IRS officials said that they are exploring possibilities to improve the database, which not only houses credit allocation information, but also data from submitted noncompliance and building disposition forms from state housing finance agencies. Specifically, IRS has been considering moving the database to a new and updated server, which will address weaknesses identified in data entry and programming controls to help ensure reliable data are collected and provide program managers with the ability to more easily review noncompliance issues. Until IRS implements these steps to improve its data, this recommendation remains open.
Recommendation: To improve the utility of the credit allocation information contained in IRS's database, IRS should address weaknesses identified in data entry and programming controls to ensure reliable data are collected.
Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service