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Tax Expenditures for Owner-Occupied Housing: Deductions for Property Taxes and Mortgage Interest and the Exclusion of Imputed Rental Income

Working paper #629
James Potherb and Todd Sinai

Federal income tax policy affects the cost of homeownership for many households. Popular discussions of the favorable tax treatment of owner occupied housing usually focus on the tax-deductibility of mortgage interest and property tax payments, as well as the specialized tax rules that affect housing capital gains. Academic discussions, in contrast, emphasize the exclusion of the imputed rental income on owner-occupied housing as the key tax benefit for homeowners. This paper summarizes the current distribution of the tax benefits associated with the mortgage interest and property tax deductions. It contrasts them with the distribution of tax benefits associated with the current tax regime for imputed rental income relative to one which taxed homeowners as if they were landlords. It also reports how removing either deduction, or taxing homeowners as landlords, would affect the user cost of owner-occupied housing.

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