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

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 weeks.  Read part four here

Who Receives the Renters Credit?

In 2015, about 328,000 Minnesota households received the Renters Credit. Most households receiving the credit had incomes of around $31,000 or less.

According to the Minnesota Budget Project, the average amount of Renters Credit received in 2015 was $636. More than a quarter of the households receiving the Renters Credit included senior citizens and/or people with disabilities; for these households the average credit was $702. The share of households who receive the credit that include seniors or people with disabilities tends to be higher in Greater Minnesota. In 12 Greater Minnesota counties, at least half of the participating households included seniors and/or persons with disabilities.

Racial Equity Implications of the Renters Credit

In Minnesota, racial equity policies to eliminate socio-economic and racial disparities center around the belief that what we look like and where we come from should not determine the benefits, burdens, or responsibilities we bear in our society. Despite Minnesota’s reputation as one of the most progressive and thriving states in the country, we cannot escape the legacy of present and past discrimination. To reverse this legacy, numerous community organizations have adopted policy strategies grounded in racial equity, or “the development of policies, practices and strategic investments to reverse racial disparity trends, eliminate institutional racism, and ensure that outcomes and opportunities for all people are no longer predictable by race,” as a central part of their organizing principles.

A look at the racial composition of renters in Minnesota shows that almost three quarters of low-income black Minnesotans are renting. About 60 percent of people who identify as Ojibwe are renting. Half of low-income Hmong folks in Minnesota are renting, and 90 percent of low-income Somali Minnesotans are renting. For our purposes, we define people as being low-income if they are living at 200 percent of the federal poverty line or below. For example, a family of three with an income of $42,000 is living at 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

Table 1 – Selected Low-Income POCI Populations Living in Minnesota

Estimated Population Renting Proportion Renting
Black Minnesotans 84,000 74 percent
Somali Minnesotans 16,000 90 percent
Hmong Minnesotans 10,000 48 percent
Mexican Minnesotans 34,000 60 percent
Ojibwe 8,000 58 percent
Lakota 1,300 53 percent

Race Equity Implications for Minnesotans with Children

The implications for many communities of color with children in Minnesota are similar. About 80 percent of low-income black Minnesotans who have children are renting, which translates to about 41,000 Minnesotans. Minnesotans from Mexico who have children are also likely renting in high numbers, about 21,000 Minnesotans.

Table 2 – Selected Low-Income POCI Families with Children Living in Minnesota

Estimated Population Renting Proportion with Children Renting
Black Minnesotans 41,000 82 percent
Somali Minnesotans 9,000 91 percent
Hmong Minnesotans 6,000 53 percent
Mexican Minnesotans 21,000 62 percent
Ojibwe 3,700 69 percent
Lakota 700 64 percent


Race Equity Implications for Seniors

A look at the racial equity implications for seniors who are renting in Minnesota shows that most low-income senior Somali Minnesotans are renting. Close to 70 percent of low-income black seniors in Minnesota are renting, which is about 5,000 people. About half of Ojibwe seniors are renting. Over 60 percent of Hmong seniors are renting, and about 40 percent of Mexican seniors are renting.

Table 3 – Selected Low-Income POCI Seniors Living in Minnesota

Estimated Seniors Renting Proportion of Seniors Renting
Black Minnesotans 5,000 67 percent
Somali Minnesotans 1,500 98 percent
Hmong Minnesotans 600 64 percent
Mexican Minnesotans 800 39 percent
Ojibwe 700 49 percent



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.

Tax Justice Can Lead to Racial and Economic Justice

Discussions about tax policy and reform are heating up at the Minnesota Capitol, and it is important for all of us to remember that tax policy has a lot to do with racial and economic justice. As income inequality continues to grow in Minnesota, our system of taxation can either contribute to or reduce that inequality. We know that raising revenue through taxes is necessary to fund investments that help build more equitable communities – if policy leaders pay attention to equity in budget priorities. The same holds true for tax policy. Raising revenue equitably can help reduce disparities and form the foundation for other equitable practices.

By connecting the dots between some key facts, it is clear that fair tax policy is also a matter of racial justice.

1. Poverty and race intersect.

About 12% of Minnesotans live in poverty. Communities of color experience poverty at higher rates than white Minnesotans, with poverty at

41% for American Indians,

17% for Asian Americans,

37% for African Americans,

25% for Latinos,

and 9% for whites.

Susan Brower, State Demographer

2. Income growth is concentrated among the wealthiest Minnesotans.

“Household income has declined over the past decade. Poverty has increased. The wage distribution has widened. Low-income workers’ wages have changed little in past decades; the highest-income wages have increased.”

Susan Brower, State Demographer

Income inequality has grown in Minnesota, making the lack of equity in our tax code even worse. High-income Minnesotans pay a significant amount of all taxes paid in the state, but they pay below their proportionate share. For example, the 1% of Minnesotans with the highest incomes had 16% of all income in the state, but only paid 13.4% of all state and local taxes.

3. Minnesota’s tax system asks low- and middle-income Minnesotans to pay more than their fair share.

All Minnesotans support public services through the taxes they pay. However, looking at all state and local taxes, Minnesota’s tax system is regressive, meaning that low- and middle-income Minnesotans pay a higher share of their incomes in taxes than high-income Minnesotans. And Minnesota’s tax system has become more regressive over time, reflecting rising income inequality but also tax and budget choices, such as increased reliance on local property taxes.

“Minnesota’s estate tax and individual income tax are the state’s only progressive taxes – meaning that the higher one’s income, the larger the share of income paid for the tax. All other taxes that Minnesotans pay are regressive, where low- and middle-income households pay a higher share of their income in those taxes.”

Minnesota Budget Project

Considering state and local taxes, the Minnesotans with the lowest incomes contribute the highest share of their incomes to taxes. Households with incomes over $446,961 a year pay 9.6% of their incomes in total state and local taxes, whereas middle-income households pay 12.1%, and low-income households pay 14%.

Tax Policies Can Hurt or Help

Given the facts described above, it’s clear that economic and racial disparities are reflected in the tax code. Of course our system of taxation cannot on its own eliminate disparities by race and income. But attention to these disparities in our policy choices can ensure that our taxes do not exacerbate economic and racial disparities.

Key proposals to further tax fairness and thus racial justice include: 

Raise the income tax rate on highest-income households.

Doing so will make the system more fair, while also bringing in much needed revenue for investments in quality schools, affordable college and strong communities. Tax fairness has declined in Minnesota since 1990, as income inequality has grown.

Improve the Renters’ Credit to offset the regressive impact of property taxes.

People of color in Minnesota are more likely than white Minnesotans to rent their homes. While 81.4% of white Minnesotans own their homes, only 50.2% of Hispanic Minnesotans and 24.8% of Black Minnesotans are homeowners. Minnesotans pay property taxes whether they own or rent their homes, with renters contributing through their monthly rent payments. The Renters’ Credit helps ensure that low- and moderate-income renters don’t pay too much of their incomes in property taxes.

Update the Working Family Credit.

Last year the federal Earned Income Tax Credit lifted 6.6 million people, including 3.3 million children, out of poverty. Policymakers should update the Minnesota Working Family Credit – our state’s version of the federal EITC – to reflect recent federal changes benefitting married couples as another important step to make our tax system less regressive.

“When low-income families receive their refund check, they purchase groceries, child care, school supplies, and more, increasing demand for the goods and services of local businesses, which ultimately benefits the economy as a whole.” Center for American Progress

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Tax Justice Can Lead to Racial and Economic Justice