Sen. Maria Cantwell is pushing for Congress to expand a program that gives tax credits to developers of rent-restricted housing.

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More than 390,000 households in Washington state and 11 million nationwide pay more than half their income in rent, according to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Those numbers were among several Cantwell cited in Seattle on Thursday as she began a push for Congress to expand a program that helps build affordable housing.

Few people who work outside the affordable-housing sector know about Low Income Housing Tax Credits, but the program has helped pay for nearly 3 million rental homes across the country since 1986, including more than 18,000 in Seattle, she says.

Cantwell is proposing a 50 percent expansion of a part of the program that supports affordable-housing projects with tax credits worth 9 percent of the cost of construction.

She says the expansion would allow affordable-housing developers to build an additional 4,200 units in Washington over 10 years. Some would be in Seattle, where Mayor Ed Murray has set a goal of adding 20,000 rent-restricted units in a decade.

Cantwell said she plans to introduce a bill within the next few weeks and is working closely with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas. The bipartisan pair worked together last year on legislation shoring up the program, which launched under President Reagan.

“We know this is a big challenge, but the housing crisis is a big challenge,” Cantwell said Thursday, promising to continue her push in Tacoma and Spokane and then in other cities in other states.“ We need more affordable housing, and we need it now.”

Developers usually use Low Income Housing Tax Credits together with other financing sources. States receive annual allocations based on the size of their populations and direct them to projects with rents affordable for low-income tenants.

Murray has proposed a new Seattle property-tax levy that would raise $290 million over seven years, double the size of the city’s levy expiring at the end of this year.

Some projects using Low Income Housing Tax Credits target people experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is down nationwide but growing in Washington, according to Cantwell and Murray, who in November declared a state of emergency.

“I declared a state of emergency in Seattle because we need more federal resources for affordable housing,” he said, voicing support for Cantwell’s expansion proposal.