Taxation and Housing: Old Questions, New Answers

James M. Poterba

NBER Working Paper No. 3963
Issued in January 1992
NBER Program(s):   PE

This paper sketches how the tax reforms of the 1980s affected the incentives and distortions associated with tax policy toward housing markets. There are three principal conclusions. (1) Reductions in marginal tax rates, particularly for high-income households, reduced the tax-induced distortion in the user cost of owner-occupied housing. This lowered the deadweight losses associated with the favorable tax treatment of homeownership. (2) The increase in the standard deduction in the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (TRA86) removed several million middle-income homeowners who previously itemized from the ranks of itemizers. For these households TRA86 raised the marginal cost of owner-occupied housing. These changes also exacerbated the regressive nature of the mortgage interest subsidy. In 1988, more than half of the tax losses associated with mortgage interest deductions accrued to the 8% of taxpayers with the highest economic incomes. (3) TRA86 reduced incentives for rental housing investment, contributing to the decline in new multifamily housing starts from 500,000 per year in 1985 to less than 150,000 in 1991. In the long-run these policies will lead to higher rents.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w3963

Published: American Economic Review Vol. 82, May 1992, pp. 237-242 citation courtesy of

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