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NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers are targeting cash-strapped homeowners as they continue to pursue tax changes that would shift even more of the tax load to low- and middle-income taxpayers, while preserving tax benefits that have largely flowed to the wealthy and profitable corporations.

Legislation approved by the state Senate (Senate Bill 20) would require homeowners to pay state income tax on mortgage debt forgiven by lenders. Meanwhile, financial institutions that provide such consumer relief are allowed to deduct the expense as a tax write-off.

The proposal would undermine a key element of North Carolina’s recovery from the nationwide housing crisis that fueled the Great Recession. In the wake of the crisis, a number of financial institutions  agreed to  settlements that provide consumers relief for unaffordable mortgages. This often meant reducing the amount of principal debt they owed on their mortgages to make them more affordable and lessen the likelihood of foreclosure. Furthermore, the 49-state National Mortgage Settlement encourages mortgage servicers to provide such relief to distressed borrowers affected by the housing crisis.

The goal of these settlements is to ensure that homeowners who were preyed upon by unethical lenders do not fall into the financial tailspin that foreclosure often creates. The tax change proposed by the Senate would require cash-strapped homeowners who have already suffered from the disastrous housing crisis and economic downturn to report this debt forgiveness as income, even though no actual cash is provided to the homeowners.

This could deter families from accepting bank offers to modify their mortgage loans because they cannot afford to pay taxes on the amount of relief they get. Distressed homeowners seeking to stabilize their finances and rebuild in the wake of the housing crisis would face a major setback. Read More

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Technical corrections billAs previously reported here, here and numerous other places, this year’s “technical corrections” bill at the General Assembly was and is an especially egregious example of secret legislative sausage making at its worst. The bill is chock-full of substantive (i.e. a lot more than “technical”) changes to the law – many of which were never even the subject of separate legislation – much less public hearings or debate.

A classic example is buried on page 20 of the 58-page, 94-section special interest Christmas Tree. The official explanation from legislative staff and even the explanation from some legislators in committee and on the floor suggested the provision added needed protections or in some manner merely “clarifies” an “ambiguity” in the state’s anti-predatory lending law by specifying that first loans on manufactured homes are also covered.

Sounds innocuous and maybe even okay, right?

Here’s the problem (and the reason why baloney like this shouldn’t get mislabeled as “technical” and then passed in the wee hours of the legislative session when no one is even paying attention):

The manufactured housing industry asked for the change so that lenders would be able to charge an upfront “origination” fee when they sell a manufactured home by itself – i.e. in situations in which no land is involved in the transaction. Currently, under the law in question, a lender can charge such a fee but only where the manufactured home is sold attached to real estate. With this last minute “technical correction,” the barn door is now open to the assessment of such a fee with all manufactured home sales – even though there was never a bill on the subject or a genuine public discussion at the General Assembly on the merits (and problems) of such an idea  This is obviously a big deal that will cost the state’s consumers millions of dollars in the years to come.

The bottom line: It’s not surprising that an industry long known for selling marginal products with the deceptive tactics perfected in the used car business would support squeezing yet another fee from what are typically unsophisticated, lower income consumers. And sadly, it’s even less surprising that the folks currently running the General Assembly would blithely label the legalization of such a rip-off as a “technical correction.”

FYI –  the Governor has until next Tuesday to sign the bill and has given no indication that he will do otherwise.

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This is from a release distributed this morning by the North Carolina Housing Coalition:

High rents make housing unaffordable for many in Raleigh-Cary

Raleigh, N.C. –Renters in the Raleigh-Cary area need to earn $16.88 per hour in order to afford a basic apartment here, according to a report released today that compares the cost of rental housing with what renters can really afford.

The report, Out of Reach 2013, was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization, and the North Carolina Housing Coalition. The report provides the Housing Wage and other housing affordability data for every state, metropolitan area, combined non metropolitan area, and county in the country. The Housing Wage is the hourly wage a family must earn, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to be able to afford the rent and utilities for a safe and modest home in the private housing market. Read More

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Senior Researcher Arloc Sherman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put up an extremely helpful and illuminating post yesterday afternoon on the group’s Off the Charts blog about poverty.

It shows a critical fact that is frequently misrepresented or not reported in the public debate:  While poverty has been on the rise over the last decade, non-cash public benefits like housing assistance and food stamps (SNAP) do make a significant difference in keeping it in check.  He notes that because the “official” poverty rate is based on pre-tax cash income, it ignores important non-cash benefits that, when factored in, lower the poverty rate.

This does not mean, however, as conservatives frequently try to argue, Read More