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Senator Kamala Harris pitches tax relief bill for renters

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Bay Area lawmaker’s Rental Relief Act is first national response to housing crisis

Senator Kamala Harris speaking at a podium in front of the Capitol in Washington DC.
Harris speaks in Washington DC in July.
Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images

Last week, Sen. Kamala Harris, who hails from the Bay Area and previously served as San Francisco’s district attorney, proposed a Rent Relief Act bill that Curbed credits as the first attempt at a national response to the housing crisis.

Harris’ bill would “amend the Internal Revenue Code” to offer a break to renters who are paying more to keep a roof over their heads:

‘‘In the case of an individual who leases [a] principal residence [...] during the taxable year and who pays rent with respect to such residence in excess of 30 percent of the taxpayer’s gross income for such taxable year, there shall be allowed as a credit against the tax imposed by this subtitle for such taxable year an amount equal to the applicable percentage of such excess.”

The bill limits the credit to those making $100,000 per year or less. In some pricier markets (like the Bay Area), it bumps up to $125,000. The bill also includes special considerations for people already living in government subsidized housing.

In a Thursday press release, Harris claims that the plan would “[bolster] the economic security of working families,” while Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff noted that “nearly every Oakland resident who pays rent will save money under this law.”

To bolster arguments for relief, Harris cites Washington DC-based think tank the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC) annual study on the cost of housing relative to regional incomes.

For 2017, NLIHC found that a two-person household would have to work more than 107 hours each week at San Francisco minimum wage in order to properly afford a two-bedroom SF apartment at market rates. For 2018, depending on the neighborhood, a renter would need a wage of at least $41.73/hour to afford a single-bedroom rental.

The Los AngelesTimes predicts that Harris’ proposal has little chance of legislative success in the current congress. But the makeup of future congresses could potentially prove more amenable to its fortunes.