Tax reform measures working their way through Congress have raised the ire of a number of groups representing segments of the real estate industry, while less-organized coalitions of consumers and homeowners are beginning to question certain twists of the two tax reform proposals now under consideration.
The National Association of Home Builders, a major lobbying organization that supports the generous tax benefits enjoyed by the real estate industry during recent years, has sharply attacked the tax reform proposals. The NAHB claims that tax revision will make homeownership more expensive and drive up rental rates.
"Tax reform clearly changes all the rules of the game in the investment market," said NAHB President John J. Koelemij. "It's hard for the typical taxpayer to associate real estate tax incentives . . . with lower rents, but there is a chain of tax incentives that make investment possible. When you cut one link out of that chain, all the numbers change."
The NAHB has calculated that President Reagan's tax reform proposal would increase the after-tax cost of homeownership for most homeowners by between 8 and 14 percent, while the tax reform proposal put together by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, would increase it by between 11 and 16 percent.
"The reduction in tax savings from homeownership translates into an increase in the after-tax cost of homeownership," said Michael Carliner, chief economist for the NAHB. "Despite the fact that tax reform would reduce the tax burden on many homeowners, homeownership would become more expensive on an after-tax basis than other goods and services."
Although other industry groups have been less vocal about their concern over the impact of tax reform on the real estate industry, most of them are supporting efforts to block adoption of the more severe measures.
Among tax benefits the real estate industry holds dear and is fighting hard to retain is one excluding it from the prohibition against deducting as a loss more money than has been risked in an investment. Most of the major industry groups, including the NAHB and the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, support extending the so-called "at risk" exception for real estate. The Rostenkowski and Reagan tax reform proposals would eliminate it.
While the large industry groups are flexing their political muscle, some smaller industry associations and groups are beginning to grumble that some of the tax reform measures could hurt certain homeowners and consumers in ways that have not been anticipated.
For example, people who own co-operatives could be in danger of losing the right to deduct the interest they pay on their home loans, despite President Reagan's repeated assurances that the mortgage interest deduction will be considered a "sacred cow."
The problem for co-op owners is that, technically, they do not own real estate. Co-op owners actually own a share in a company that owns real estate. Because of this legal distinction, co-op owners have share loans instead of mortgages. Under Reagan's tax reform proposal, which limits all nonbusiness interest deductions other than mortgage interest, co-op owners would be the only group of homeowners to lose a portion of their mortgage interest deduction.
Under the tax reform proposal put together by Rostenkowski, co-op owners would be better off. His proposal for interest deduction would allow someone to deduct up to $20,000 of any nonbusiness interest (including mortgage and share loan interest) or, if the interest payments on the mortgage were more than $20,000, the person could deduct the full amount of the mortgage interest but nothing else.
The National Cooperative Business Association estimates that most co-op owners would not have share loan interest payments that would push them over the $20,000 limit and, therefore, would be able to deduct all the share loan interest they currently are allowed to deduct.
Many industry groups are protesting the interest deduction limits because of the impact they would have on the second-home market. The president's proposal and Rostenkowski's would allow a certain amount of nonbusiness interest deductions above whatever amount of money a family has in passive investment income.
Critics say this means that a wealthy family would be able to deduct most of their interest payments on a mortgage for a second home because they would have passive investments to balance against the interest deductions. But a middle-class family with no passive investment income would be limited in the amount of interest from a second-home mortgage that it could deduct.
NAHB President Koelemij said builders are concerned that the Rostenkowski proposal to cap interest deductions on second homes "opens the door to the possibility of an eventual cap on interest deductions on primary homes."
Owners of houses in older neighborhoods also could be hurt by the proposed changes in the historic and rehabilitation tax credits that have been in the tax law for the past four years.
Three categories of tax credits are available for historic rehabs. Owners of rental or commercial income-producing buildings can take a 15 percent tax credit if the building is 30 years old, or a 20 percent credit if the building is 40 years old or older. Those tax credits do not have to be certified, nor do the buildings have to be historic landmarks.
For any certified historic building -- one either on the National Register of Historic Sites or in a locally designated historic district -- an owner can get a 25 percent tax credit if the rehabilitation meets certain design standards.
The president's tax proposal would eliminate all historic tax credits. The Rostenkowski proposal would reduce the tax credits for the 30- and 40-year-old buildings to a flat 10 percent credit for any building built before 1935. The historic rehab credit would be retained, although reduced to 20 percent.
Preservationists say the Rostenkowski proposal would mean that significant historic buildings would continue to be rehabilitated, but that the reduction of the nonhistoric rehab credits could reduce the pace of neighborhood revitalization in many older cities, much of which has been subsidized by the rehab credits.
Another group watching the tax reform discussion is the loose coalition of low-income-tenant groups that are concerned about the future of tax-exempt-bond financing for low-income housing.
The House Ways and Means Committee has approved by voice vote a two-tiered system of tax incentives for building and renting housing for low-income people that narrows the benefits, but should result in more of the subsidized units being available to people who cannot afford any other kind of housing.
The committee's proposal, as amended last week, also would require the income levels to be indexed to family size. In addition, the committee agreed to a provision that would require syndicators to certify annually that their projects continue to meet the low-income targeting levels.
At the same time, however, both proposals would set limits on the total dollar amount of tax-exempt bonds that each state could allow.
Industry officials say, however, that any specific tax reform measure could be changed or eliminated during congressional debate, and that without broad support for the entire package of reforms, the push to overhaul the tax code could come to nothing. The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to produce a bill by Thanksgiving.