State Sen. Kamala Harris introduces tax cut bill for burdened renters

Agency Use of Science in the Rulemaking Process: Proposals for Improving Transparency and Accountability
UC BERKELEY PUBLIC AFFAIRS/Courtesy
Agency Use of Science in the Rulemaking Process: Proposals for Improving Transparency and Accountability

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, introduced a bill that would reduce federal income taxes for rent-burdened citizens.

The Rent Relief Act of 2018 would give renters who pay more than 30 percent of their household incomes in rent and utilities a tax credit. Extremely low-income households would be eligible for a credit equal to the amount paid in rent and utilities beyond 30 percent of their incomes, according to a press release from Harris’ office.

In areas with high rent prices, households earning less than $125,000 would receive a credit equal to a quarter of the excess amount paid in rent and utilities. In some Bay Area counties, a family of four can earn as much as $117,000 and still be considered “low income.”

“Tenants in Berkeley and all over the Bay Area would benefit from this bill,”said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “Millions of people are rent challenged. They are not only paying 30 percent but 50 percent of their incomes in rent. If you have children — or for anybody, for that matter — it does not give you much to pay for food and the other expenses of living,”

Worthington said it may be tough to get the bill passed this year, but regardless, he said he believes it is good to introduce the bill and begin building support for it. Worthington added that even if the November elections do not bring new Democratic leadership to Congress, Harris and bill co-sponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, have a chance to convince their colleagues to ease the pressure on renters.

According to a report from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, referenced in the bill’s fact sheet, 21 million Americans spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and 11 million spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

The report also outlined models of federal tax credit relief programs for renters that would cost between $41 billion and $76 billion.

According to a report from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, 3 million households — more than half of the state’s renters — are rent burdened, and 1.5 million households, almost a third of renters, are “severely rent burdened.”

California voters will also have a chance to decide in November whether or not to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limits the ability of city and county governments to enact rent control laws.

“America’s affordable housing crisis has left too many families behind who struggle each month to keep a roof over their head,” Harris said in a press release. “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.”

Contact Ryan Geller at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @rashadgeller.