But the deduction is probably much higher for many Inland homeowners when the huge housing bubble and the resulting crash are factored in. Prices peaked late in 2006 at $430,000 for the median-priced home in Riverside County and $380,000 in San Bernardino County. The median price in September was $212,500 in Riverside County, and $170,000 in San Bernardino County, according to DataQuick, a real estate information service.
Husing said that many people are still making regular payments on a house purchased for well more than it is worth now and have little cash left over after writing that check.
"If you take away the mortgage interest deduction you'd take away part of their income, and we're not talking about very wealthy people," Husing said.
Daren Blomquist, vice president for RealtyTrac, an online real estate and foreclosure tracking firm, estimates that 71,000 people in Riverside County alone are underwater by more than $150,000, and it would not take much more to trigger many of them to walk away and let the lender foreclose.
That's a process that could take a year, and while it's happening, large parts of neighborhoods could fall into decay due to abandoned homes.
"It would be very detrimental in the Inland Empire," Blomquist said. "Many more would walk away."
Already, one in every 73 Inland homes, more than three times the national average, was in some phase of the foreclosure-related process, according to a third-quarter report from RealtyTrac.
Curtailing the mortgage deduction would be a move that would curtail the area's recovery, other real estate professionals say. Rich Simonin, co-owner of Riverside's Westcoe Realty, said it would have a negative effect on the market that sellers, buyers, escrow agents and others would feel.
"We're already numb from being hit over the head," Simonin said. "This would not be a minor shift. It would be a huge fundamental change in the dynamics of real estate."
Hector Sanchez, a Realtor with ReMax Advantage in Redlands, said it could make some buyers hesitant to get into the market. "I think we're so fragile right now," he said of the Inland area. "This is where the bomb went off."
Taking a deduction for mortgage interest is considered an important part of many taxpayers' financial plan, said Jamil Dada, vice president for investments at Riverside-based Provident Financial Holdings. Frequently he advises clients not to pay down extra mortgage debt and use excess cash to take care of other payments.
The reason, Dada said, is that credit cards and other debt are not tax-deductible.
"It's more beneficial to have cash flow," Dada said.
The deduction also means a check that is for some people one of the few breaks they get all year. Tamara Rose, 39, a teacher who lives in Riverside, said the tax refund she gets every year pays down credit card balances and takes care of surprise expenses.
"We need every tax break," Rose said. "It's the only way we can save anything."
It's also a boon for many retailers and sometimes the only boon. Mike Rustai, general manager of American Wholesale Furniture and Mattress in Temecula, said business always picks up late in the winter and early in spring, when refund checks go out. It serves as an economic boost, and city treasuries see an uptick in sales tax revenue.
"People get a decent check and they spend," Rustai said.
Dada, who frequently visits Washington, D.C., as a ranking official of the National Association of Workforce Boards, said it would be unlikely the deduction would be eliminated outright because hitting middle-class taxpayers that hard would be politically dangerous.
In an interview, Green said that Inland residents should probably not worry, at least for now. His guess is that Congress would look at mortgages worth $1 million first and possibly drop that level down over a period of years.
That means it would affect homeowners in coastal Los Angeles and San Francisco but very few in the Inland Empire, and it's possible the Inland area might not feel this, if it happens, for a long time.
"It's one thing to look at an ideal policy, and another to get there," Green said.
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