Today’s New York Times “Room for Debate” forum asks “Should Housing Policy Support Renters More?” It’s an important discussion since, as we explain in this chart book, federal housing policy is imbalanced in two ways. It favors homeowners over renters, and it targets a disproportionate share of subsidies on higher-income households (see chart).
This is the case even though, as Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, points out, “the primary focus of federal housing policy should be to help those most in need.” Need among renters is rising. As MacArthur Foundation president Julia Stasch notes, “increasing rents, stagnant wages and inadequate federal support have made rental housing less affordable for more people.” Low-income renters — including veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, and working families — are far likelier than homeowners and higher income households to need assistance to keep a roof over their heads and make ends meet.
Three ongoing policy debates offer opportunities to move in this direction:
Most immediately, Congress should provide more resources in 2015 funding bills to restore Housing Choice Vouchers and other low-income rental assistance that was cut as a result of sequestration in 2013. Those cuts prevented thousands of low-income Americans from receiving the assistance they need to escape homelessness and housing instability, both of which have been linked to developmental, health, and education problems in children.
If tax reform moves forward, Congress should replace the mortgage interest deduction with a less-expensive, better-targeted credit that would trim subsidies for higher-income families while expanding them for middle- and low-income homeowners. It should also use some of the savings from this reform to fund a new renters’ tax credit that would address part of the unmet need for housing assistance among the lowest-income renters.
If Congress reforms the housing finance system, it should use new financing fees for robust funding — like that provided in the reform bill that the Senate Banking Committee approved in May 2014 — to develop and rehabilitate affordable rental housing through the National Housing Trust Fund.