By Earl McLeod
As the debate over tax reform and the regulatory structure of the housing finance system intensifies, misconceptions about housing and finance are proliferating. Following is the truth about some of the most widespread inaccuracies.
Misconception: Only the wealthy benefit from the mortgage interest deduction.
This pervasive fiction is a commonly cited reason for justifying elimination of the mortgage interest deduction.
Income tax deductions for mortgage interest and real estate taxes primarily benefit middle-class taxpayers with incomes between $50,000 and $200,000. And among first-time home buyers, 68 percent of households earn less than $80,000. First-time home buyers benefit most from the mortgage interest deduction because more of their mortgage payment is applied to interest.
Misconception: In the wake of the recession and housing market downturn, Americans have become disenchanted with homeownership and it is no longer a part of the American Dream.
Not so, according to a March 2011 study by the Pew Research Center. Among the more than 2,100 people surveyed, 81 percent agreed that homeownership is the best long-term investment a person can make. That sentiment even held true among those who said their homes lost value during the recession; 82 percent of that group indicated that homeownership is the best long-term investment a person can make.
Misconception: Eliminating government sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would have no effect on rental housing.
Investing in new and existing rental housing requires access to affordable financing. In the wake of the financial crisis, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), have become the primary sources of financing for rental properties of all types. In considering whether the government should continue to guarantee mortgages through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or some other mechanism, policymakers should keep in mind their importance as a stable, long-term source of financing for rental as well as owner-occupied housing, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
Misconception: Homeownership advocates say everyone should own a home.
Homeownership isn’t for everyone, but everyone should be able to choose a home that meets their needs, whether they rent or buy. And government policies, such as the proposed Qualified Residential Mortgage standard, should not limit homeownership opportunities unnecessarily.
Earl McLeod is Executive Director of the Greater Columbia Home Builders Association and a member of the South Carolina Home Builders Housing Hall of Fame.