Mon, May

Rents Are Unaffordable Nationwide. A Renter’s Tax Credit Would Help


POVERTY IN AMERICA - I spent my first birthday in a shelter. Decades later, after doing all I was supposed to do to lift myself up out of poverty, I’m sofa hopping with my children.

I live in Las Vegas, where I work on a program helping low-income women and children find support to keep a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. When I enrolled in the program myself, the supervisors recognized my ability to lead and offered me this job.

I love my work, and the pay is solidly above minimum wage. Given my humble beginnings, anyone would say I’m a success story. Except I’m currently homeless.

Rents are astronomically high. In Las Vegas, the average household now needs to make at least $70,000 a year to afford rent. I make a decent full-time salary — but not that much.

It’s not a problem unique to me or to Vegas. According to the Low-Income Housing Coalition, there is no state or county in the United States where someone working full-time at minimum wage can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.

When a huge chunk of your paycheck goes to rent or the mortgage, there’s little leftover for an emergency. And most Americans — 56 percent of us — can’t pay for an unexpected emergency of $1,000. A surprise dental bill, medical bill, or car repair can send us spiraling into poverty.

That’s what happened to me. My mother had to be hospitalized, I separated from my children’s father, and my car broke down. I lost everything — almost literally overnight.

I first had to help my mother. She was my childcare provider, but she’s now disabled. Then my cell phone bill payments lapsed for two months, and I had to pay in full to keep my only source of communication turned on. I had to fix my car to get to work and get the kids where they needed to go. Legal bills piled up from trying to secure custody and child support.

I quickly fell behind on rent. The next thing I know, the constable was at my door — forcing me, my two kids, and my disabled mother out of the apartment and down the stairs. That proved too challenging for my mother, and I had to take her back to the hospital immediately.

Again, I work full time and make decent money. But many people are like me — we fall into the gap where our income is too high for assistance but too low for living.

Often, just a little bit of help could keep us from falling into homelessness, joblessness, or worse. If rental assistance were expanded to people making less than a housing wage, or if the pandemic-era expanded Child Tax Credit were still in place, I wouldn’t have been evicted.

We need to bring that expanded Child Tax Credit back. Antipoverty organizations are also calling for a new Renter’s Tax Credit.

Unlike homeowners who get a mortgage tax credit, renters don’t get any tax benefit for paying month after month. With a Renter’s Tax Credit, renters who pay more than 30 percent of our paychecks on housing would get a monthly credit to bring their housing costs down to that percentage.

That would help more of us stay in our homes, keep our jobs, and afford basics like food and child care. It could also reduce the need for more complicated safety net supports.

April is National Fair Housing Month. If we want everyone to have a fair chance to thrive, we can start now by ensuring access to stable, affordable housing.

(Ashley Dines is a mother of two and an expert on poverty with RESULTS from Las Vegas, Nevada. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.)

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