Protecting the Renters Credit is a Racial Justice Issue: Part Two

This is a piece written in collaboration with Brett Grant (Voices for Racial Justice), Clark Biegler Goldenrod (Minnesota Budget Project), Roberto de la Riva (Inquilinxs Unidxs), and Eric Hauge (HOME line).  It will be released in four parts over the next few week.  Read part three here

Renters in Minnesota

Housing policies throughout Minnesota in the form of incentives, regulation, and deregulation, have created a socioeconomic underclass in the state. This class includes people of all demographic makeups, but people of color, women, and renters are disproportionately represented. If we are to help create a truly free and equal state through public policy, we must work to undo the power-imbalances that give rise to these disparities.

In Minnesota and across the country, since the collapse of the housing market, the economy has improved while the lives of people who are poor and working class have gotten worse. The disparities and power-imbalances in housing markets around the country were exacerbated by the Great Recession. Many of the homeowners who had been targeted by predatory lenders saw all equity in their homes evaporate nearly overnight, and were forced into the rental market. The earlier discrimination that locked women and people of color out of the housing market pushed them into the rental market and more recent discrimination locked them out of the prime mortgage market and pushed them into the rental market as well.

This discrimination of the past is reflected in cities such as Minneapolis. Female-headed households are more likely to be cost burdened than male headed households. Black-headed households are nearly twice as likely to be cost burdened as white-headed households. People who identify as LGBTQ are more likely to be homeless. Most federal money spent on housing goes to wealthy homeowners in the form of regressive tax credits. The subsidies that are available for renters are exclusively available for very low-income renters, mostly in the form of public housing and Section 8 vouchers, both of which have seen such massive disinvestment in recent years that only a small percentage of renters who qualify for these programs have access to them. Furthermore, in Minneapolis, private landlords may choose to accept Section 8 vouchers or not, and are free to stop accepting them at any time.

The Renters Credit

According to the Minnesota Budget Project, a research and advocacy organization that works towards a future where all Minnesotans have access to economic opportunities and well-being, the Renters Credit is a tax credit that refunds a portion of the property taxes that renters have paid through their rents. Tax refunds received through the Renters Credit help people who struggle to pay the bills, many of whom belong to communities of color and American Indian communities. Minnesotans report that when they receive this property tax refund, they use it to buy medicine or school clothes for their children, to catch up on bills, or for other basic needs. This spending in turn boosts our local economies.

While the Renters Credit is not a solution to the discriminatory housing practices and policies of the past, it is a tool that provides renters some financial relief and can perhaps offer a chance at more significant and long-term asset/wealth building. Below are a few portions of testimony prepared by HOME Line for one of the times they testified at the Minnesota Legislature about the renters credit:

As has been covered extensively, low-income renters are facing a difficult time with increased housing expenses, while other costs of living are increasing too. Many folks–especially seniors and people with disabilities–are on fixed incomes and are having difficulty making ends meet. That’s where the Renters Credit comes in—it makes a real difference in people’s lives when they receive their refund. Every year around this time (the landlords Certificate of Rent Paid (CRP) form is due to tenants by January 31) is when folks are applying for their refund, and we start hearing from renters across the state about the types of things they spend it on. And then the refund is timed perfectly for families with kids–it comes in mid to late August, when everyone is preparing for the start of school. It’s not uncommon that refunds are spent on clothes and supplies for the new school year, as well as childcare for younger siblings who aren’t off to school yet. One thing we’ve heard consistently is that the Refund goes towards basic needs. It’s almost exclusively spent within the nearby community on items that we all take for granted. We hear from seniors and families who spend their refunds on:

  • household needs – laundry, cleaning supplies / toothpaste, toilet paper, soap and other toiletries;
  • out of pocket prescription costs and other important over-the-counter medicines and drugs;
  • prescription eye-wear and dental expenses not covered by insurance;
  • winter boots and other seasonal clothing needs;
  • school supplies and kids clothing for school;
  • maintenance and upkeep on automobiles, licenses/tabs, insurance or other transportation costs like Metro Mobility–especially for seniors, to keep them mobile so they can visit their doctor;
  • bills: telephone service, utilities, etc.;
  • stocking up on groceries for the winter;
  • Christmas presents for family members, postage for holiday cards;
  • catching up on overall household expenses to keep head above water.
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