National Politics

White House hopefuls have affordable housing plans. Will issue come up in debate?

Will tonight’s debate in Houston be the first time affordable housing makes it to the presidential debate stage?

The 2020 election marks a turning point for affordable housing as a major presidential campaign issue, said Samuel Gunter, executive director for the North Carolina Housing Coalition, but the topic hasn’t been featured in earlier debates.

“It’s a problem across the country, but it’s not a problem that really gets talked about on the national stage,” he said. A social media campaign led by the National Low Income Housing Coalition encourages moderators from ABC News and Univision to ask candidates about housing.

Still, Gunter called the increased focus on housing “a sea change” from 2016, with a couple theories why.

Rents and home prices continue to climb, making it a kitchen table issue for more Americans, he said, and many Democratic candidates have dealt directly with housing issues in their previous local government or policy roles.

About one-third of American households are cost-burdened — paying more than 30% of their income on housing — according to a Harvard University analysis published in December.

“Housing policy impacts everyone. Land use, lending regulations and the cost of housing (affects) the extremely low-income to the other end of the market,” Gunter said of the importance of debating the issue. “To not have that be featured for the prospective leaders of our county? It’s critical for that to be part of the conversation.”

Several 2020 candidates already have housing platforms or have discussed the topic in interviews and public appearances. Below are some proposals for the 10 candidates who qualified for Thursday’s debate:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden set a goal to house everyone leaving incarceration by increasing transitional housing funds and directing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development to contract only with providers willing to house “individuals looking for a second chance.” His climate policy also calls for HUD to make low-income communities more energy efficient.
  • Sen. Cory Booker proposes a refundable tax credit for renters paying more than 30% of their gross income. The credit would cover the gap between 30% of their income and rent. He’s also proposed the idea of “Baby Bonds:” federally funded savings accounts of at least $1,000 for all children given at birth, with more money going to low-income families. Accounts could grow to nearly $50,000 by age 18 for low-income households and could be used for, as Booker puts it, “the kind of things that create wealth and change life trajectories, including putting a down payment on a home.”

  • Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, proposes a public trust to purchase abandoned properties and give them through forgivable liens to residents who meet income requirements and have a local residency history or live in former red-lined areas.

  • Julian Castro’s “people first housing” plan includes expanding the federal low-income housing voucher program, known as Section 8. The former HUD secretary supports creating a refundable tax credit for a portion of rental expenses and support new affordable housing construction with “at least $45 billion per year” for the national Housing Trust Fund and Capital Management Fund.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris has introduced the “Rent Relief Act” in the Senate, a refundable tax credit for families paying more than 30% of gross income on rent and utilities. In her presidential platform she proposes a $100 billion plan for black home ownership with down payment and closing cost assistance from HUD up to $25,000 for people in historically red-lined communities.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s plans include investment in rural communities, specifically increasing rental assistance programs and attracting private investment to rural areas. She also outlines plans for portable savings accounts for emergency rental relief and to help seniors stay in their homes.

  • Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman, doesn’t have a specific housing plan in his platform, but was quoted at a New Hampshire event supporting “direct federal government intervention in housing, including incentivizing the creation of millions of additional housing units in this country, preferably closer to where people actually work” to promote mixed-income communities.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders called rent control “crucial“ to his family’s economic stability when he was young in an op-ed earlier this year. He supports expanding the national housing trust fund to build more than 7 million housing units for low-income, elderly, and disabled Americans.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s housing platform centers on the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which she introduced in the Senate. It calls for $500 billion over 10 years “to build, preserve, and rehab units that will be affordable to lower-income families.” Her plan also toughens housing discrimination laws and creates a down payment assistance program for people living in former red-lined communities, aimed at closing the gap between rates of white and black home ownership.

  • Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur, has proposed “relaxing” zoning ordinances to increase affordable housing “encourage the building of new innovative housing options like micro-apartments and communal living for people in high-density urban areas.”

This work was made possible in part by grant funding from Report for America/GroundTruth Project and the Foundation For The Carolinas.

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Lauren Lindstrom is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering affordable housing. She previously covered health for The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, where she wrote about the state’s opioid crisis and childhood lead poisoning. Lauren is a Wisconsin native, a Northwestern University graduate and a 2019 Report for America corps member.
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