The readers’ forum

Federal changes to real estate programs could benefit everyone

 

Florida has seen more than its fair share of real estate problems over the past few years. Changes recently proposed to federal programs could help Florida’s housing market now and for the long term as well as bringing federal policy more in line with the realities of today’s market.

The federal government spends an average of $450 billion annually on real estate programs, including individual tax deductions, loan guarantees and commercial tax credits. These programs have a tremendous influence on where and how homes, businesses and even whole neighborhoods are built in the United States.

Smart Growth America and Locus, its coalition of responsible real estate developers and investors, have proposed changes to these programs to help homeowners and renters across Florida and the United States. These proposals would create more affordable rental homes by expanding federal tax credits that encourage rental construction. Florida has seen an increase in demand for rental housing over the past few years and such a proposal would help families across the state.

The proposals would also boost homeownership by helping more Floridians save for down payments on their first homes. Individual mortgage savings accounts, one of the new proposals, would function like health savings accounts and allow individuals to contribute pre-tax dollars to a savings account dedicated to their first down payment. Enabling more middle-class Floridians to save for a down payment would go a long way toward making home ownership a reality for more people.

These proposals would have important implications for Florida’s real estate market, as well. Today’s federal real estate programs have not kept pace with the evolving real estate market, which is demonstrating a clear, strong demand for homes in walkable neighborhoods and those served by transit. We see these proposals as an opportunity to bring federal policy in line with market demand, while generating opportunities for economic development. The proposed reforms would update outdated programs and achieve better outcomes for households, communities and taxpayers while saving the federal government an estimated $33 billion per year.

Most of the U.S., Florida especially, is in the midst of a fundamental shift in real estate demand that will reshape development patterns for years to come. In the coming months the federal government will consider comprehensive tax and housing reform as well as reforms to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As real estate professionals, we believe this is a unique opportunity to revisit the federal role in real estate in a way that helps families, communities and taxpayers. Doing so will allow us to use our federal dollars more efficiently while putting the real estate sector and the economy as a whole on a path to long-term, sustainable economic growth. Learn more about the recommendations at www.smartgrowthamerica.org/federal-real-estate.

Robert Davis, a founding member, LOCUS, Washington, DC

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