Renters tax credit? Blumenauer seeks fix for housing crunch
Housing is a human right, says U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, and for many, the fundamental need has been left unmet.
The Oregon Democrat is hoping to hammer together a fix. His ideas include a renters' tax credit, statewide caps on rent increases and $10 billion a year in federal dollars for public housing.
Blumenauer made his case in a new 28-page report, "Locked Out: Reversing Federal Housing Failures and Unlocking Opportunity," which he released Thursday, Sept. 5. Joining him at a press conference were representatives from the Urban League of Portland and the city-county Joint Office of Homelessness Services.
"It's important to recognize that the federal government plays a critical role that only the government can play, providing housing for people with no or very limited income," Blumenauer told the Tribune.
With roots in the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal, modern public housing policy took roost in 1965 as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which the report says produced more than 1 million homes through the 1970s.
But the initial building boom was soon outstripped by rising maintenance costs, leading to concerns about unsafe, deteriorating conditions in many of the "projects." The amount of new subsidized rental homes dropped to 25,000 annually in the '80s, according to the report.
Congress eventually approved a rule forbidding HUD from funding projects that would add more rent-subsidized units than a local housing authority had on Oct. 1, 1999. The Faircloth Amendment remains on the books to this day.
"The federal government has been on the sidelines," Blumenauer said. "Particularly on the West Coast, we have rising rents and home values that haven't kept pace with incomes."
But the representative isn't seeking a return to the past, noting that people of color were discriminated against, denied loans and prevented from building intergenerational wealth. His proposed solutions focus on constructing more affordable housing, but also address renter relief, private homeownership and anti-discrimination measures.
Among the ideas:
• Repeal the Faircloth Amendment, and create a Public Housing Construction Fund to end the waitlist for subsidized housing
• Allot $1 billion for eviction protection and renter aid through the federally-funded non-profit Legal Services Corporation.
• End the Mortgage Interest Deduction for those purchasing their second home, but reinstate the First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit that expired in 2011.
These ideas would certainly require a mass movement to become the law of the land. But there's one person whose support Blumenauer isn't seeking: HUD Secretary Ben Carson.
"Carson's a lost cause. They were proposing to have programs slashed and to undermine anti-discrimination" policies, said Blumenauer. "I'm not going to waste my time with him."
By the numbers
Here are the vital statistics from U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer's new housing report:
550,000 — total number of Americans considered homeless each night
$18.65 — hourly wage needed to rent an average one-bedroom home nationwide, without spending more than 30% of income on rent
83% — percentage of households earning less than $15,000 a year who spend more than a third of income on rent
$1,500 — minimum monthly rent for 40% of newly-constructed rentals in the U.S. in 2016. The next 25% cost between $1,100 and $1,499 per month
4,000,000 — number of low-rent properties lost since 2011
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