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Tax treatment of owner occupied housing and wealth inequality

By Sang-Wook (Stanley) Cho and Johanna L. Francis

Abstract

We construct a quantitative general equilibrium lifecycle model with housing tenure decisions to investigate the degree to which wealth inequality in the United States is affected by the preferential tax treatment of home-ownership. Favorable tax treatment of owner occupied housing in the form of home mortgage interest and property tax deductibility, and the untaxed nature of imputed rents, provides a financial incentive for home-ownership over renting as well as an incentive to "over-consume" housing since houses are not fungible. Since the favorable tax treatment of housing disproportionately creates tax savings for the upper quantiles of the income distribution, we quantify how it contributes to the heavily right skewed distribution of wealth in the United States using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances. We consider a revenue-neutral government response to the counter factual experiments of removing the current tax structure on housing. Our quantitative analysis shows that, in terms of distributional effects, removing all of the preferential tax treatments results in an aggregate increase in welfare. However, we do not find any reduction in inequality. We also find that while some re-allocation toward financial assets occurs, households primarily increase their consumption when imputed housing rents are taxed and the property tax deduction is removed. Thus housing tax policy may be effective at encouraging more overall saving through housing assets.Mortgage interest deductibility Housing taxation Wealth Inequality

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