MERIDIAN — So, my conservative friends, what is the ideological difference between a tax subsidy for the wealthy and a financial subsidy for the poor?
We hear concerns from some conservatives about corporate welfare where the tax code benefits select corporate interests, but not so much about tax code welfare for the wealthy.
My question arises from a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Admittedly the Center is a left-leaning think tank, but its work is cited by Bank of America in ads touting the bank’s activities to finance affordable housing.
“The federal government spends nearly $200 billion per year on housing assistance programs, but the vast majority of it is allocated, via tax deductions, to households earning more than $100,000 per year,” reads the ad in Axios.com. A footnote points to the Center’s article entitled “Chart Book: Federal housing spending is poorly matched to need.”
The article counted as subsidies mortgage interest and property tax deductions, capital gains exclusions, low-income housing tax credits and other rental assistance programs, such as Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance and public housing. Based on 2015 data, it said 60% of these subsidies went to higher-income households, “even though lower-income families are far more likely to struggle to afford housing.”
While tax subsidies for higher-income households are somewhat restrained under the new tax laws, overall these subsidies are not capped. Rental subsidies, however, for lower-income households are capped. Consequently, only about one in four low-income households eligible for assistance gets it while waiting lists grow across the country.
Demographic trends predict growing imbalance. Over a 10-year period, renter households grew by nearly 9 million, while homeowner households remained flat.
So, does all this have anything to do with Mississippi?
The latest data show over 62,000 low-income Mississippi households get federal rental subsidies. The data further show pent-up demand for such assistance, with an additional 96,000 low-income renter households paying over 50% of income for housing.
That demand will surge as Mississippi’s elderly population surges, especially from seniors on fixed retirement incomes.
While most of the financing for rental assistance is federal, there are policy options at the state level. For example, the Mississippi Home Corporation (MHC) controls the point system used to score applications for low-income housing tax credits.
The point system currently is not favorable to senior-only developments. Extra points generally go to projects serving larger families. However, the growth trend for our elderly population indicates more senior-only projects are needed.
Ironically, the MHC Facebook page touts the opening of Preservation Crossing, a seniors-only housing development in Hattiesburg it helped finance. The project revamped the historic Hattiesburg High School into 74 units for seniors ages 55 and older who earn between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income. (In this case, the project’s historic preservation feature boosted its points.)
So, where do Mississippi conservatives stand regarding tax subsidies for the wealthy and financial subsidies for the poor? For one, both or neither? More and more seniors want to know.
• Bill Crawford is a Republican former state lawmaker from Meridian.