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Fraternities and sororities at Penn provide an affordable housing option for many students, according to College junior and Alpha Epsilon Pi President Dave Dobkin. However, while alumni donations to University-owned housing is tax-deductible, the same does not apply to Greek houses.

Last week, Dobkin traveled to Washington, D.C., with 100 other fraternity and sorority members to lobby for the Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act (CHIA). The act will allow tax-deductible contributions to not-for-profit student housing entities, such as fraternity and sorority houses.

“It’s a glitch in the tax system that prevents fraternities and sororities from maximizing funding from alumni,”

said Dobkin, who is also the vice president of strategic planning for the Interfraternity Council.

According to the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee ­— a lobbying group that campaigns year-round for this act — CHIA will allow over $1 billion in capital improvement projects in fraternity and sorority houses nationwide. In 2008, the Committee on Joint Taxation estimated the loss in tax revenue after passage of CHIA to be $148 million over 10 years.

“It’s trading pennies for quarters,” AEPi Director of Housing Robert Derdiger said. Derdiger, who also lobbied in Washington last week, said the act will have a “dramatic effect” on the level of donations from “bricks and mortar” alumni who are willing to donate to building and maintenance projects.

“The things that tug on their heartstrings is the experience of living in fraternity and sorority houses,” he said, adding that the act will lead to an increase in funding for improvements from fire sprinklers and alarm systems to furniture in bedrooms and common areas in chapter houses.

College junior and Panhellenic Council President Darby Nelson said passage of CHIA would be “very beneficial” to the fraternity and sorority systems at Penn. Living in a chapter house “adds a new dimension” to sorority members’ experience by fostering close relationships between sisters in different years, she said.

“It is each president’s decision whether or not to endorse this act, but I would encourage their support,” she added.

Dobkin began lobbying for the act because he felt he had a “personal cause” that he could convey to legislators. The AEPi house was condemned and knocked down in 2002, and the fraternity lost its rights to develop the land due to insufficient funds.

According to Dobkin, CHIA saw an increase of 19 sponsors since last week’s campaign. This raised the number of sponsors for the act from 185 to 204.

The next step, according to Dobkin, is to raise awareness and leverage support among the Greek community and the University. He plans to encourage fraternity and sorority presidents to write letters to Congress and draft a resolution, which the Undergraduate Assembly will debate next fall.

“Providing this tax break might bring a new donor base that would not otherwise have been engaged,” said UA President and College junior Matt Amalfitano, a member of Phi Kappa Sigma. “Investment in fraternities and sororities is indeed investment in University as a whole.”

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