Rep. Keith Ellison
credit: Center for American Progress

Rep. Keith Ellison reintroduced the Common Sense Housing Investment Act (H.R. 948) in the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 8. The bill would make it easier for the middle and working classes to find affordable rental housing.

“Working Americans who put in long hours should be able to afford a place to sleep and food to eat every night,” Rep. Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota’s 5th District, said in a Feb. 8 press release.

Two federal housing goals are to increase the country’s home ownership rate and to offer affordable rental housing to low-income families and individuals, according to congressional findings. Yet the federal government allocates three times more funding to support home ownership growth than it does to ensure affordable rental housing.

For families in the bottom 20 percent of income, there are 31 affordable units for every 100 families that need them, according to the bill, which states an additional 7 million affordable homes are necessary to meet demand.

Waiting lists for housing assistance can be 10 years long and are closed in many communities, including the District. One in four families that qualify for rental housing assistance receive benefits, according to the congressional findings.

The bill, which amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, suggests reforming the mortgage interest deduction — a $70 billion tax write-off that largely benefits the country’s highest-income households — to benefit those in need of housing resources.

The alterations would convert the MID to a 15 percent flat rate tax credit on interest paid on mortgages up to $500,000. The amount of a mortgage eligible for a tax write-off would be lowered from $1 million to $500,000, a change that would affect fewer than 6 percent of mortgage holders, according to the United for Homes Campaign. These changes would be implemented over a five-year period.

Changing the MID to a tax credit would benefit 60 million homeowners, up from the current 43 million, according to analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. The $241 billion saved over 10 years would go toward providing affordable rental homes by expanding the Housing Trust Fund, Low Income Housing Tax Credit, public housing and rental assistance solutions.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition and the United for Homes Campaign — which has been endorsed by more that 2,300 local, state and national organizations nationwide — support this act.

H.R. 948 was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means and the Committee on Financial Services. The period in which it is reviewed, which is determined by the Speaker, will allow each committee to review elements of the act that fall under their respective jurisdictions.

This bill has a 2 percent likelihood of being enacted, according to PredictGov. Factors considered in this prediction include the bill’s overall text, its Democratic primary sponsor and its primary subject of taxation.

In a Feb. 14 letter addressed to the Committee on Ways and Means’ Chairman Kevin Brady and Ranking Member Richard E. Neal, Ellison urged the committee to redirect savings from tax benefit changes to providing affordable rental housing.

“At a time when America’s housing affordability crisis continues to reach new heights, our nation should be investing resources into programs that serve those with the most acute housing needs,” Ellison wrote.

The letter was co-signed by 33 members of Congress.

Ellison introduced earlier versions of this bill in 2012, 2013 and 2015, all of which were referred to the Committee on Ways and Means and the Committee on Financial Services but did not make it out of committee.