My suburban 4 bedroom, 2 bath home is government subsidized; if you own a home, so is yours. That's because of the mortgage-interest deduction in our tax code. Matthew Desmond writes in The New York Times Magazine: "When we think of entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare immediately come to mind. But by any fair standard, the holy trinity of United States social policy should also include the mortgage-interest deduction — an enormous benefit that has also become politically untouchable."
Only 1 in 4 families that qualifiy for low-income housing gets it. But almost every American family that owns a home with a mortgage and itemizes their income tax deductions deducts that interest, to my knowledge. To the tune of BILLIONS - more than the budgets of the Departments of Education, Justice and Energy combined.
When we talk about widening inequality in America, there are so many ways to measure it and so many causes (health, education, geography). When it comes to basic human needs - food, shelter, health - the role of affordable housing is a huge determinant of a family's financial health and well-being. At Opportunity Fund, we invest in entrepreneurs and students, primarily. But we also make large-scale investments in community infrastructure projects - like LA Family Housing - because there's no single silver bullet and our multi-pronged approach is what drives us closer to prosperity for all.
From Desmond's article: "The mortgage-interest deduction overwhelmingly benefits the sorts of upper-middle-class voters who make up the donor base of both parties and who generally fail to acknowledge themselves to be beneficiaries of federal largess. 'Today, as in the past,” writes the historian Molly Michelmore in her book “Tax and Spend,” “most of the recipients of federal aid are not the suspect ‘welfare queens’ of the popular imagination but rather middle-class homeowners, salaried professionals and retirees.” A 15-story public housing tower and a mortgaged suburban home are both government-subsidized, but only one looks (and feels) that way. It is only by recognizing this fact that we can begin to understand why there is so much poverty in the United States today.
Recognizing my privilege as a homeowner is important. I work at Opportunity Fund because I believe in creating economic opportunity. Helping low-income families begins with understanding how the tax code already privileges homeowners like me.
Helping low and moderate income families begins with understanding how the tax code already privileges homeowners like me.