As much as gated communities and major multi-family residential complexes are the holy grail for construction, there’s also a growing demand for low-income housing as well.

And a key factor sparking that niche thus far has been the government’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, the primary tool for constructing and renovating affordable housing in the U.S.

One regional entity that’s recently taken advantage of the program is Mercy Housing Northwest, which this year renovated and implemented energy-efficiency upgrades in 92 of it units for seniors in Tenino, Centralia and Winlock. In conjunction with partners KeyBank Community Development Corporation and Enterprise Community Investment, Inc., the organization is aiming to upgrade its entire Washington state portfolio of 926 units, most for seniors and disabled residents who earn an annual mean of just $11,000.

“As the limited partner and largest investor, KeyBank takes this achievement very personally,” said Jennifer Seamons, who handles equity investments in affordable housing in the Northwest for Key Community Development Corporation. “The transformation here exceeds the sum total of new siding, windows, carpet and appliances. This is a beautiful place for residents to call home.”

Bill Rumpf, Mercy Housing Northwest president, said that he’s pleased that the project ultimately extends the affordability of his agency’s properties for those who need them most.

“By making these buildings more sustainable and livable, this project ensures that seniors in these communities have the high quality and safe housing they deserve, at rents they can afford,” he said.

In addition to benefiting seniors and the disabled in these rural areas with good-quality and affordable housing, the local economies have also spiked with the influx of construction spending at local businesses, dining and entertainment venues, and lodging sites.

For the latter, it wasn’t only the incoming contractors who needed a place to stay during the process, though; the expedited building schedule also left residents with lodging needs for 30 days.

Building materials and supplies are another industry seeing an uptick from the spike in affordable housing improvements. For Mercy Housing’s Thurston and Lewis county projects alone, more than 200 construction workers were hired and more than a dozen jobs — four of them permanent — were created. In addition, 75 percent of the renovation workforce came from businesses in the South Sound.

As for the properties’ history, Mercy Housing acquired the three 1970s- and ’80s-built sites a decade ago from a retiring private developer. This year’s upgrades, which included improved electric and plumbing systems, new fixtures and appliances, and roofing and siding repairs, were courtesy of partnerships with private donors and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office, as well as a $9.5 million Low Income Housing Tax Credit investment from Key Community Development Corporation.

Altogether, for Washington state, roughly $300 million in housing credits have already been allocated to 33 affordable housing developments under the program. Through Rural Development, rental assistance for seniors is also available.

“Our housing programs work to improve the quality of life for rural Americans by ensuring that they have access to safe, well-built, affordable homes,” said Rural Development Washington state director Mario Villanueva, “so we are pleased by this type of partnership.”

That the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program may be on the federal chopping block due to government cutbacks thus doesn’t sit well with the agencies involved in Mercy Housing’s upgrades in Washington state, however.

“This amazing transformation shows the continued need for housing credits and predevelopment grants,” said Enterprise Community Parters vice president M.A. Leonard.