The rent is too damn high

The rent is too damn high

Affordable housing was a problem before the pandemic. Now, with many people struggling to catch up on rent as we begin to recover from Covid-19, that problem is likely to be even greater. A new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and HousingNOLA finds that Louisiana’s affordable housing supply is less than half of what is actually needed:

Homes that are affordable to extremely low-income renters are not necessarily available to them. In the private market, households can occupy homes that cost less than 30% of their incomes, and many do. When higher-income households occupy rental homes also affordable to lower-income households, they render those homes unavailable to the lower income households. Extremely low-income renters must compete with all higher-income households for the limited number of rental homes affordable to them in the private market. To truly measure the housing options extremely low-income renters have, we must account for the fact that higher-income renters occupy some of the most affordable units. Rental homes are both affordable and available for households of a specific income group if the homes are affordable to them and they are not occupied by higher-income households.

Bad analysis fuels mistrust of child allowances 
For years, a consensus has been building that direct cash assistance to families with children is the best tool we have for reducing child poverty. Now, as part of the American Rescue Plan, that cash assistance is set to begin flowing to low-income Americans with children, in the form of fully refundable child tax credits. As Matthew Darling, Vice President of ideas42, explains in the Hill the research is also clear that cash assistance does not harm workforce participation. But bad analysis dating to the Nixon era continues to fuel opposition:

Sadly, these same arguments are fueling debate around the child allowance proposals today — and based on the evidence, we can be confident that these policies could significantly reduce child poverty without meaningfully impacting participation in the workforce. It might be simpler for policymakers if the cause of poverty was the result of laziness or bad incentives. But the truth is more insidious — policymakers have made poverty worse with poorly designed programs based on sloppy analyses and that leaves people who live with low incomes struggling to do their best to survive. We can do better by those families if we follow the evidence and the evidence says that cash works.

No solution for worker misclassification 
Louisiana is the only state that doesn’t penalize employers who commit payroll fraud by misclassifying workers, opting instead to issue a toothless warning to bad actors. Last year, state Rep. Mandie Landry filed House Bill 34, which aimed to give some teeth to Louisiana’s worker misclassification law, but the bill’s opponents killed it in committee. Instead, the Legislature created a taskforce of experts to make recommendations on the issue, but that group is poised to miss a key deadline to submit recommendations before the legislative session begins. The LA Illuminator’s Wesley Muller has more:

In 2019, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor issued a report on more than 3,000 audits it conducted on misclassified employees. That report concluded that more than 13,000 misclassified workers had cost the state $3 million in unemployment taxes and $9 million in income taxes. The task force, which has held weekly meetings since January, has focused on finding ways to bring businesses into the system without heavy-handed enforcement and penalties. They have so far drafted two amnesty-type recommendations and are having trouble with a third draft that would redefine what an independent contractor is. The first two should be ready in time but the third may not be.

Restoring Pell Grants — and possibilities — for incarcerated people
Pell Grants have been a successful tool for helping low-income people to afford college and improve their lives. People in prison used to be able to access these funds to take college classes, meaningfully improving outcomes for incarcerated people upon their release. But the 1994 crime bill cut incarcerated people off from Pell funding. Tucked away in the December stimulus package was a provision that removed this 27 year ban. As Clint Smith III reports in the Atlantic, classes inside prison give people a sense of community, a sense of purpose, a sense of identity and a sense of hope.

A lot of incarcerated people have an acute sense of the possibilities that education offers them while they are incarcerated. That gives many with long-term or life sentences hope that educational attainment, along with good behavior, might lead to a lessening of their sentence and a chance of going home. As another one of the men I interviewed told me, “You always had the feeling that, the more you learn, the more you stay outta trouble; the more you educate yourself, the greater your chances of actually becoming free.”

Number of the Day
$2.4 billion –  The amount the IRS has failed to collect from millionaires who owe the federal government back taxes. (Source: Bloomberg )