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Harris legislation could offer ‘rent relief ’ for working poor

More families being ‘priced out’ of housing

Cory Alexander Haywood OW Contributor | 7/26/2018, midnight
With the cost of housing continuing to rise in California and across the country, U.S. Sen. Kamala D. Harris..
Kamala Harris

With the cost of housing continuing to rise in California and across the country, U.S. Sen. Kamala D. Harris has introduced legislation to provide rent relief for working families struggling to pay their bills. The Rent Relief Act would create a new, refundable tax credit to put more money in the pockets of families at a time when renters’ wages have remained stagnant and housing costs have increased rapidly. Harris was joined in the introduction by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

“America’s affordable housing crisis has left too many families behind who struggle each month to keep a roof over their head,” Harris said. “This bill will ensure no family is priced out of the basic security of a place to live. Bolstering the economic security of working families would strengthen our country and increase opportunity.”

“This bill would help more than 140,000 low-income Connecticut families struggling to pay rent each month, providing them much needed relief and flexibility to spend on other vital needs like health care and putting the American Dream within closer reach,” Blumenthal said. “For far too many in Connecticut and across the country, rising rents and flat paychecks prevent them from enjoying the basic, fundamental human right to affordable housing.”

“As far too many families scramble to afford the cost of living, we must keep working to find solutions to our affordable housing crisis,” Hassan said. “I’ve heard from businesses across our state that one of their most pressing challenges is a shortage of affordable housing for their prospective employees. This common-sense bill would create a refundable tax credit to help bring relief to families who struggle to afford their rent and expand economic opportunity for hard-working Granite Staters and Americans.”

Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, said the lack of affordable housing is a national emergency.

“Senator Harris is bringing heightened awareness to a crisis that’s been ignored for far too long. The Rent Relief Act reflects a strong commitment to ensuring that all Americans have access to a safe and affordable home.”

A report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition illustrates that there is a shortage of 7.4 million affordable rental units for America’s 11.4 million extremely low-income families. According to California’s Department of Housing and Community Development, nearly 1/3 of California renters (3 million California households) are rent burdened, and California has the third highest rents in the country. More than 1.5 million households are severely rent burdened and more Americans than ever are renters. The share of US households that were renters climbed to 35 percent in 2012, up from 31 percent in 2004.

Under Harris’ Rent Relief Act, the refundable tax credit will be available to individuals who live in rental housing and pay more than 30% of their gross income for the taxable year on their rent including utilities. Eligible individuals would qualify for the tax benefit by determining the total amount spent yearly on rent, taking into account the family’s annual income, and a rate of the federal government’s established fair market rent controls.

Individuals who live in government-subsidized rental housing could claim the value of one month’s rent as a refundable tax credit. Subsidized rent is normally capped at 30% of a person’s income, making them eligible for the tax benefit for rent-burdened residents. The Rent Relief Act would give much-needed relief to lower income residents.

The Rent Relief Act is supported by: the National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Alliance to End Homelessness, Fair Housing of California, and the National Housing Law Project      

"I applaud Senator Harris for her leadership in introducing this innovative, bold proposal, which would help struggling families who today face impossible choices between paying rent and meeting their other basic needs, including putting groceries on the table and taking care of their health,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“Home is not just where we keep a roof over our heads — it’s where we raise families, become part of a community, and create a lifetime of memories,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “It’s also where we want to stay, and Senator Harris’ legislation would help protect millions of families from losing their homes, by expanding benefits and opportunities for people who pay rent every month.”