Hugh Hewitt lives in Orange, Calif., where high housing costs and state income taxes equal large mortgage and tax deductions on federal income taxes. In his “Policy Purity Is Bad Politics” (op-ed, Jan. 9) he states: “In Trump country there is a great attachment to the ‘big three’ deductions, and there will be great hostility to any move to eliminate or even cap any of them,” the third big federal government giveaway being a deduction for charitable deductions. No, there is not a great attachment to deductions that favor mostly “coasties” who have disdain for fly-over country people.
I live in Texas, a state with high property taxes and no income tax. If a Texan buys an expensive home, he knows he will pay high property taxes for life. Why should someone else in Texas who buys an inexpensive home subsidize the Texan who buys an expensive home? Why should Texans subsidize those in California and New York who have high mortgage and state income-tax deductions?
Doesn’t Mr. Hewitt get it? Most of those who voted for Donald Trump live between the coasts and cannot take equal advantage of federal income-tax deductions. If we got rid of mortgage, charitable, property and state income-tax deductions, their income-tax rate could shrink or their federal credits could rise. Besides, those on the coasts did not vote for Mr. Trump anyway. Why should those of us who did continue to subsidize those who did not?
The mortgage-interest deduction is our nation’s largest housing subsidy, but it is poorly targeted, primarily benefiting America’s highest-income households. The Congressional Budget Office says the top 20% wealthiest households receive 75% of the benefits and the top 1% of earners get 15% of the benefits. Each year the federal government spends more to subsidize the homes of seven million of the highest-income households, concentrated primarily in New York and California, than it does to help the more than 55 million families with incomes of $50,000 or less, those far more likely to struggle to afford housing. Three-fourths of all taxpayers—households who rent and approximately half of all homeowners—receive no mortgage-interest benefit.
Economists agree that the deduction does little to promote homeownership. Most of those who benefit would choose to buy a home whether or not they were receiving the tax benefit. Instead, it incentivizes existing homeowners to purchase larger homes, taking on more debt, increasing the size of their tax deduction.
The United for Homes campaign calls for lowering the portion of a mortgage that can be used for tax relief and converting the deduction to a credit. The result: 16 million lower-income homeowners eligible for a new tax benefit and $240 billion in savings over 10 years that can instead be reinvested to address the housing needs of the lowest-income households.
With the political will to rebalance federal housing policy we can end the affordable housing crisis in America with no additional spending.
President and CEO
National Low Income