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California Bill Would Boost Renter Tax Credit for First Time in 40 Years

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A red 'for rent' sign hangs in the window of a classic SF Victorian building, with the downtown skyline in the background.
A 'For Rent' sign hangs in the window of an apartment building in Nob Hill in San Francisco on July 29, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

More than 3 million Californians with lower incomes could get a break on their taxes under a bill that would significantly increase the credit for renters for the first time in more than 40 years.

Single filers who make less than $43,533 or joint filers making less than $87,066 currently receive $60 or $120, respectively – amounts that haven't been increased since 1979, despite rents that continue to soar.

The bill, SB 843, by state Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), would increase that credit to $500 for single filers and $1,000 for single parents and couples filing jointly.

It would also make the credit refundable and adjust it annually for inflation. Currently, it’s nonrefundable; meaning it can reduce the amount a renter owes on their taxes, but it doesn’t add to their refund.

Glazer says the bill is about making the tax code fairer for renters. California homeowners receive more than $9 billion in property tax, capital gains and mortgage interest deductions. The renters’ credit adds up to just $160 million, according to the state’s Franchise Tax Board.


"It’s a massive disparity," Glazer said. "And yet everyone would recognize that a homeowner, given the equity benefit, is likely to be in much better financial shape than a renter is."

The proposed change would bring the subsidy for renters to about $2.5 billion, according to 2019 Franchise Tax Board estimates that Glazer’s office provided.

"That, of course, means $2.5 billion in the pocket of the most vulnerable people in our state," Glazer said.

Renters are more likely than homeowners to be low-income and are also more likely to be "cost-burdened," meaning they pay more than a third of their income on housing.

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The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the state is about $2,000, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. But the real estate website Redfin put the estimate much higher for some of the state’s largest metros: $3,520 in San Francisco and Oakland, $3,394 in Los Angeles and $3,077 in San Diego.

Jackie Lowery, 55, pays around $3,000 a month for a four-bedroom home in Antioch, where she lives with her husband, adult son and his girlfriend. She says the tax credit won’t go very far in covering her monthly rent – but it would help.

"For far too long, renters have always got the short end of the stick on everything," she said. "It’s high time that renters are able to get something back."

It’s Glazer’s third attempt at increasing the renter tax credit. Despite receiving strong bipartisan support, his previous attempts — in the 2019 and 2017 legislative sessions — failed in the Assembly.

But now, with eviction moratoriums and rent relief during the pandemic, Glazer said there’s been more attention than ever on the plight of renters in the state.

"So, I'm hoping that will make the difference" in getting the bill signed, he said.

Rob Wiener, the executive director of the California Coalition for Rural Housing, which represents many low-income renters, said his organization generally supports the bill.

But he said, "It’s not a lot of money at all. I mean, what can you get with $500?"

Wiener wondered whether the money would be better spent increasing the amount of permanently affordable housing across the state or preserving existing affordable housing developments.

"It’s not a game changer," Wiener said, "and we need game-changers."

Between 2019 and 2020, the state more than doubled production of new, affordable housing, said Matt Schwartz, CEO of the California Housing Partnership. But, he said, it’s still about 100,000 homes short annually of what it needs to end homelessness in California.

At last count, more than 161,000 Californians were homeless, representing more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless population.

"Sure, credit for low income renters is helpful to those renters who receive it," Schwartz said, "but it is not going to fundamentally change the production levels that we need to dramatically increase for California to get out of this crisis."

The bill heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.

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