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New Year news roundup
January 4, 2017

We're sharing a few great ideas related to housing policy, affordability and income inequality that's at the root of the housing crisis:

1. The Case Against Everyone’s Favorite Tax Break: The Mortgage Interest Deduction, by Alex Mayyasi, Priceonomics.com

Is it time for America’s third largest tax break – the mortgage interest deduction – to go?  Sitting or aspiring office holders rarely support the idea, but there is a sound argument for eliminating this accidental tax break.

“The mortgage interest deduction is popular with the public, and perceived as helping the middle class afford homes. Yet nearly every government official who doesn’t hold elected office, whether Republican, Democrat, or technocrat, believes that the mortgage interest deduction is a terrible policy that does more to subsidize the wealthy’s vacation homes than to help the middle class. It influences how we invest our money and where we live, often in a negative way. 

Its existence is also a complete and utter accident—a holdover from the days when most mortgages were for farms.”

Read the full story.

2. Poor forced to make extreme choices as affordable homes erode, Star Tribune, by Adam Belz

A three-part series about the affordable housing shortage through stories of Minnesotans who struggle to find and keep affordable housing. The obstacles include market forces pushing rents higher and the limitations of some programs intended to help low-income people afford housing.

“Poor people in the Twin Cities have to wait years for a Section 8 voucher. ….  Even when people have vouchers, they can’t easily find a landlord who will accept them. Section 8’s reputation is negative, and landlords don’t want to deal with the extra inspections and paperwork.

‘With the market as competitive as it is, it’s really a landlord’s market, so they don’t see why they have to go through the hassle,’ said Christine Hart of the Community Action Partnership of Suburban Hennepin.”

Link to the series here.

3. Wall Street, America’s New Landlord, Kicks Tenants to the Curb, Bloomberg News, by Prashant Gopal

After the last decade’s foreclosure crisis private equity firms scooped up homes on short sale and turned them into rentals. These new owners tend to evict their tenants more often and abruptly, often fail to maintain properties and are contributing to a new wave of homelessness in some areas of the country.

“On a chilly December afternoon in Atlanta, a judge told Reiton Allen that he had seven days to leave his house or the marshals would kick his belongings to the curb. In the packed courtroom, the truck driver, his beard flecked with gray, stood up, cast his eyes downward and clutched his black baseball cap.

The 44-year-old father of two had rented a single-family house from a company called HavenBrook Homes, which is controlled by one of the world’s biggest money managers, Pacific Investment Management Co. Here in Fulton County, Georgia, such large institutional investors are up to twice as likely to file eviction notices as smaller owners, according to a new Atlanta Federal Reserve study.”

Continue reading.

4. Finland experiments with $600 a month stipend for jobless, by Amanda Hoover, Christian Science Monitor

An experiment in universal basic income launches in Finland. Maybe fewer strings and freer payments to poor people could save money and boost stability in the long run.

“… [A]fter decades of persistent issues with welfare around the world, including an inequality trap created by systems that discontinue benefits for those who take low-wage jobs, subsequently hampering incentives to work, many are starting to wonder if solutions lie in more radical attempts.”

Read more.