By Jared Brey.
Last week, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), whose home state of California is facing one of the worst crises of affordable housing in a country where nearly 40 percent of renters are considered cost-burdened, introduced a bill intended to give renters some long-overdue help.
The bill, called the Rent Relief Act, is a companion to legislation of the same name introduced in the House last summer by Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY), of New York. It would create a refundable tax credit for families that spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, with a sliding scale based on income. At the low end, families whose income is less than $25,000 a year could claim a credit for 100 percent of the rent they paid that year, while at the upper end, families earning between $75,000 and $100,000 could claim a credit for 25 percent of their rent. The credit would be capped so that renters could only claim a discount for rents that fall within 150 percent of Fair Market Rent. It would also allow families in subsidized housing to claim a credit for one month’s worth of rent each year. And perhaps most significantly, it would represent a major show of support for struggling renters from the federal government, which typically does much more to help homeowners than renters.
Bracket, for a moment, the fact that the bill has almost no chance of passing under the current political configuration in Congress. Does it make sense as policy? And even without passing, could it create political momentum for a new type of investment in housing at the federal level?
A recent Pew study found that 38 percent of renter households were cost-burdened—paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing—in 2015, a share that had risen nearly 20 percent since 2001. Across the country, 17 percent of those households were paying more than half their income towards rent in 2015, according to the same study. And the figures were even higher—46 percent cost-burdened—for African-American-led renter households.