A couple of weekends ago, on March 5th, over 1,000 people attended the Housing for All Rally, which was hosted by CNHED in partnership of the Way Home Campaign. The title of the rally, ‘Housing for All’ is fitting, because everyone needs quality housing, some would even argue that housing is a fundamental right. Quality housing is important regardless of your socioeconomic status and despite the form of housing that you live in. This is why the government subsidizes housing in many different ways. This can be done through tax breaks, subsidizing land for development, distributing funds for the development of supportive housing, etc. Different forms of subsidized housing benefit different socioeconomic groups. Although the term subsidized housing is typically associated with low-income people, the government provides financial assistance to people of all economic levels, with the bulk of housing assistance given to the wealthy.
One federal program that assists higher income people is the mortgage interest deduction, which allows owners to make tax-free interest payments on their mortgage loans. This program is framed as one that is supposed to assist the middle class with home purchases. However, it is mostly beneficial to people with higher incomes. The program allows homeowners to deduct up to a million dollars in interest on mortgages, even when the loan is used to buy a secondary home. Consequently, the mortgage interest deduction can be seen as an incentive to buy expensive homes or vacation homes, and does not necessarily incentivize the purchase of reasonably priced homes for the middle class.
The mortgage interest deduction isn’t the only tax deduction that higher income people benefit from as a result of owning a home. “In fact, 70 percent of the tax savings from the mortgage interest and property tax deductions accrue to the top income quintile, 8 percent to the middle quintile, and almost nothing to the bottom two quintiles”. According to available data, more than half of federal housing spending provides financial assistants to households with incomes above $100,000. “The 5 million households with incomes of $200,000 or more receive a larger share of such spending than the more than 20 million households with incomes of $20,000 or less, even though lower-income families are far more likely to struggle to afford housing.”
These statistics may surprise you, especially because government spending on housing isn’t typically associated with the wealthy. This disparity is in part due to the fact that there is more housing assistance available for homeowners than for renters. This is not an inherently negative thing, however, the majority of low-income people are renters, which leaves them excluded from much of the housing assistance that exists. In this country, only “65 affordable units exist for every 100 extremely low-income renters, and only 39 units are available per 100 extremely low-income renters”. Unfortunately, about only a quarter of low-income families eligible for rental assistance receives it, and waiting lists for assistance are hopelessly long or closed in many parts of the country.
This 1 to 4 ratio indicates a serious need for affordable housing in our country, and more specifically, a need for affordable housing in D.C. The rally brought together residents, council members, and the mayor, to call for rent control, ending chronic homelessness, and ensuring affordable housing. There were many powerful testimonies at the rally, but the one that stuck with me the most was given by a man who was formerly homeless. He spoke about how good it felt to finally have keys to his own place, and how a home not only protects you from the physical elements of the outdoors, but it also protects you emotionally, by comforting you, and giving you a place of solitude after a long day. In our current society, higher income earners have greater access to housing, and are given greater financial assistance in order to secure it. Now it is time that we ensure housing for all.