How to Effectively Talk to Your Lawmakers About the Renter Tax Credit

February 1, 2023
by Michael Santos

The affordable housing crisis has reached a fever-pitch. For many, stable housing is out of reach for myriad reasons like low housing supply, rents rising faster than wages, and inflation making everything more expensive. Even people who work full time (or more) struggle to make rent. Right now, a minimum-wage worker cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment in any state. Existing federal programs to address housing are not enough – they have long wait lists, insufficient funds, and many people suffering from housing instability do not even qualify. RESULTS’s Set the Agenda campaign aims to paint a clear picture for lawmakers of the dire economic reality for millions of households. We also want to show Congress that there are solutions within reach. One of those solutions is a Renter Tax Credit (RTC).  

Why a tax credit? 

Existing tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit have an indisputable track record of furthering economic justice. In 2021 alone, an expanded version of the Child Tax Credit contributed to a 46 percent reduction in child poverty. That’s the power of the tax code when written fairly, and it’s time to apply that power to the housing crisis. Congress needs to hear that we want significant investment in housing rather than modest, incremental “band aid” policies (like we saw in the 2022 Congress). 

Share your story – it’s even more powerful than “the data” alone

Knowing tax policy details is not critical to initial conversations with your lawmakers. The most meaningful details you can share are how a tax policy can benefit you and your community and why it matters to you. Here are a few tips to help you advocate for an RTC in ways that are rooted in values and lived experience: 

Tip #1: Label the problem and share your own perspective and experience. When you meet with your member of Congress, it’s important to come to the table with a problem they can help solve for their constituents. You can talk about how you’re seeing the affordable housing crisis play out in your own backyard and in your own community. Sharing data is helpful but is most effective as supporting context for a personal experience. It’s helpful for your member of Congress to know how the affordable housing crisis affects you personally: are you forced cut back on other important expenses? Are you concerned about the rising costs of rents in your neighborhood? Are you living with more people than your space accommodates safely to afford rent? Are you working multiple jobs so you can afford to stay in your home? Are you delaying retirement to be able to afford your place? Are you not working as many hours as you’d like because you cannot afford both rent and childcare? These are just some of the questions you can think about before talking to your lawmaker. Among us there is a diverse set of experiences with poverty and housing insecurity. We respect and value all these perspectives and expertise, and we strive to let them guide our advocacy. 

Tip #2: Remind them that there’s no one-size-fits-all housing solution so we need new options now. Housing insecurity is broader than homelessness, it’s a threat to households even with full-time jobs who can’t keep up with rising rents. Many households pay well over 30 percent of their income in rent, meaning they are “rent-burdened.” Being rent-burdened means making impossible choices between food, heat, medical care, and a roof over your head. Most rent-burdened households cannot access existing housing programs, though, because they target support to specific groups like people experiencing homelessness. A renter tax credit would broadly benefit rent-burdened households that existing housing programs are unable to serve.  

Tip #3: Let them know that an RTC can help prevent homelessness, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We believe Congress should be proactive to the diverse housing needs of its constituents. We want Congress to pay attention not just to those already experiencing homelessness, but also those who are on the cusp. Congress needs to find ways to prevent them from losing their housing, just as people already experiencing homelessness need to get housed.  

Pitch your focused ask! 

Now that you’ve set the stage for what problem(s) you’d like Congress to address, it’s time to discuss our idea for a potential solution – the RTC.  

Our main ask for members of Congress and their aides: Urge them to research renter tax credit policies that help rent-burdened households. Concurrently, they should meet directly with advocates and constituents struggling with housing costs. 

There is no federal renter tax credit policy yet, but a handful of states offer possible examples you can share. There are also several federal-level proposals for RTC-like policies, and they have bipartisan support. Critically, these proposals all address “rent burden:” ensuring tenants do not pay more than 30 percent of their household income towards rent. Take for example former Senator Dean Heller’s (R-NV) renter tax credit proposal that targeted support for seniors. Or Senator Cory Booker’s proposed legislation to provide immediate assistance to rent-burdened individuals with monthly tax credits. Feel free to share this, along with our leave behind and short policy brief about renter tax credits. Stay tuned for more resources coming soon! 

Because an RTC is a new federal policy, our ask of lawmaker should focus on researching RTCs and connecting with rent-burdened constituents. Further, more detailed policy discussions can happen later. We’re keeping it simple to keep members of Congress engaged and on the same page.  

Get information from your lawmakers and share that with your network and with RESULTS staff 

In addition to having a plan on what you want to share, you can collect information about your lawmaker’s response. Their aid may describe their office’s own ideas on how to address the housing crisis or thoughts on tax policy. Try to get a feel for your lawmaker’s current stances and past support for other tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. This information informs future important conversations. Share back with your fellow advocates and RESULTS staff to strategize for the next time you engage with that office. Together, we build an unstoppable movement for economic justice. 

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