Affordable housing and tax breaks
Bart Harvey, chairman of Enterprise Community Partners, covered the spectrum of affordable housing when I interviewed him for my story about the Columbia nonprofit, in today's paper. Alas, I only had 30-or-so inches of space to play around with. Here, the sky's the limit.
So, dear Wonk readers, I bring you one of the more interesting -- and controversial -- ways Harvey suggested the government could ramp up its funding for affordable-housing development: Stop handing out so much in mortgage-related tax breaks.
"If you look at the mortgage interest deduction over time, ... it's up to $80 to $100 billion, depending on what you include," Harvey said.
Seventy percent of Americans don't file for that tax break, he said. Most of the benefits go to the comfortably -- or very comfortably -- affluent, he said.
It's seen as one of the untouchables in the tax code. Harvey knows this. But he notes that Britain got rid of theirs. He figures the U.S. could take the lesser step of erecting a ceiling on the value of that break.
"Why couldn't we apply this toward our housing needs?" he asked. "If you limited it to some reasonable level and allowed for high-cost areas across the country, you have $40 to $50 billion a year -- which is about what you need if you want to solve affordable housing [problems]."