In a sign of how the affordable housing crisis has become a focus for presidential contenders, Sen. Kamala Harris will introduce a new version of her bill to give renters a tax credit on Tuesday.
The new plan will give renters that spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities a credit depending on their income, and allow beneficiaries to receive monthly checks from the government instead of getting it once a year through a tax refund.
Renters who make up to $125,000 a year would benefit, with those earning less getting the most support, and the credit would be capped based on the typical rent in the taxpayer’s neighborhood. Supporters say it would help rebalance a tax code that has long been weighed in favor of buying a home instead of renting.
Some experts have worried that giving renters a big credit would encourage landlords to raise their rents — and that doling it out monthly would make that problem more likely because landlords could expect their tenants to be able to pay more right away. But Harris’ staff argued that landlords wouldn’t factor the credit into rent prices because they couldn’t know how much future tenants would receive.
“Housing is a human right, and we must act now to end the affordable housing crisis and provide relief to working families who are worried about making each month’s rent,” the California senator said in a statement. “This is about more than just economics — it’s about the basic security and dignity that every American deserves to have in their own home.”
An analysis of a previous version of the plan by the Columbia Center on Poverty and Social Policy found that it would cost $94 billion a year and help lift 7.8 million Americans out of poverty. More than 20 million households in the U.S., including half of those renting in California, are paying more than 30 percent of what they make on rent, according to the California Budget and Policy Center.
Diane Yentel, the president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said making the credit available monthly would “ensure that the lowest income people get the assistance they need in time to make rent” and help people with the lowest incomes stay in their homes.
Harris isn’t the only presidential candidate who’s proposed legislation to tackle the housing crisis — an issue that has long been relegated to the local and state levels and hasn’t gotten much federal attention in recent years.
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey has introduced a similar rental tax credit for families spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has proposed investing about $50 billion a year in funds for state housing agencies to encourage the construction of affordable apartments.
Unlike Harris’ plan, both Booker’s and Warren’s address what most experts say is the top cause for excessive housing costs: a lack of housing supply. Booker’s bill would force municipalities to reform zoning rules that restrict housing construction if they want to continue receiving certain federal grants, while Warren’s would incentivize them to do so by providing new federal grants, in addition to the funding for new housing.
A Harris spokesperson said the senator supports efforts to invest in housing construction in addition to her renters’ tax credit.
Other candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have also talked up the need for the federal government to get more involved in supporting affordable housing.
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