Testifying at a Senate Finance Committee hearing today regarding the role of tax incentives in affordable housing, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) told Congress that the housing affordability crisis is far-reaching and will require action on several fronts, not just the tax arena.
“The housing affordability crisis is the result of failing to produce enough housing to match demand,” said NAHB Chairman Jerry Konter, a home builder and developer from Savannah, Ga. “If we are going to solve this crisis, we must drive down the cost to build as well as the cost to own or rent. Well-structured housing tax incentives can help us achieve this, but Congress needs to take broader action as well.”
Supply-side challenges including building material production bottlenecks, excessive regulations and labor shortages coupled with rising inflation and increased mortgage rates have exacerbated the housing affordability crisis by raising construction and home costs, particularly as they relate to the entry-level market.
“A year ago, nearly one-quarter of new homes were priced under $300,000. Today, it’s 10%,” said Konter.
Recent housing data indicate the affordability crisis is worsening, as the Commerce Department reported yesterday that single-family housing starts fell below a 1 million annual pace in June and registered the lowest production level in two years. The lackluster housing report is in line with NAHB’s latest Housing Market Index (HMI), which shows builder confidence in the single-family housing market plunged 12 points in July, the largest single-month drop in the history of the HMI, except for the 42-point drop in April 2020.
Congress can take several steps to help reverse this trend. On the tax front, the changes brought by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act significantly reduced the number of taxpayers who itemize by doubling the standard deduction. This effectively changed the mortgage interest deduction into a tax benefit that is now geared primarily to wealthy households.
“A better policy is to scrap the mortgage interest deduction in favor of a 15% tax credit claimed against mortgage interest and real estate taxes paid,” said Konter. “This homeownership tax credit would offer a more effective and progressive tax incentive, help first-time home buyers and young couples with growing families, spur job and economic growth, and keep the nation’s long-standing commitment to housing.”
Konter also urged lawmakers to strengthen the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit by enacting the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act to boost production of affordable rental housing. The bill would finance more than 2 million additional multifamily units over the next decade by increasing the credits allocated to each state and expanding the number of affordable housing projects that can be built using private activity bonds.
NAHB also supports Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden’s proposal for a Middle-Income Housing Tax Credit, which addresses a growing need for affordable workforce rental housing. Konter also urged Congress to address the many housing tax incentives that are not indexed for inflation, such as the capital gains exclusion on the sale of a home, and asked lawmakers to reconsider the current limits on the state and local taxes deduction to help home owners ease cost burdens in high-tax states.
Outside of the tax arena, NAHB is urging Congress to take the following steps to make housing more affordable for home owners and renters alike:
- Call on the Biden administration to suspend tariffs on Canadian lumber imports into the U.S. that are contributing to unprecedented price volatility and raising housing costs and to immediately enter into negotiations with Canada on a new softwood lumber agreement.
- Reduce burdensome regulations that account for nearly 25% of the price of building a single-family home and more than 40% of the cost of a typical multifamily development.
- Help ease a chronic construction labor shortage that is delaying home building projects and increasing construction costs by promoting and funding job training programs to prepare individuals for careers in home building.
- Act to ease production bottlenecks that have contributed to home building material costs rising 19% year-over-year.