Housing hasn’t traditionally been a hot topic in presidential elections, but with homeownership financially out of reach for many Americans, the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination have been eager to discuss the issue.
On Thursday night, candidates on the debate stage answered a question about affordable housing for the first time this election cycle. MSNBC debate moderator Kristen Welker asked billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer whether he was the best person to address this issue, citing the housing crisis in Steyer’s home state of California.
“I understand exactly what needs to be done here, which is we need to change policy and that we need to apply resources here to make sure that we build literally millions of new units,” Steyer responded.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts then chimed in, echoing the call to build millions more homes while also citing the historic hurdles people of color have faced when attempting to access mortgage financing. Meanwhile, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey used the debate stage as an opportunity to broadcast his plan for a renter tax credit.
Multiple other candidates, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, have released detailed plans showcasing how they would tackle the trouble many Americans face when looking to find a home to rent or to buy.
“For the first time in recent memory, affordable housing is a topic on the presidential campaign trail,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Some 85% of Americans “believe ensuring everyone has a safe, decent, affordable place to live should be a top national priority,” according to a nationwide public-opinion poll commissioned between the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Hart Research Associates.
But the primary calendar itself may be largely the cause of candidates’ enthusiasm, said Rick Sharga, a mortgage-industry veteran.
“California — perhaps the epicenter of unaffordable housing — is scheduled to have its primary earlier than in past election cycles, and voters in the Golden State will very likely pay more attention to the affordable housing proposals being presented by the Democratic hopefuls than voters in many other states,” Sharga said.
The Trump administration has taken steps recently to address housing-related issues. Last week, the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development unveiled plans outlining how America’s housing-finance system could be overhauled, including ending the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And on Tuesday, the White House released an extensive report detailing the forces contributing to chronic homelessness, particularly in states like California.
The following Democratic candidates did not respond to requests for comment from MarketWatch, nor have they released plans nor spoken extensively about issues surrounding housing: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii, Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana and former Rep. Joe Sestak from Pennsylvania.
Here’s what other Democratic candidates are saying about affordable housing:
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, released a plan dubbed “Housing for All,” that addresses everything from the need to build more housing units to combatting gentrification.
Like many of his policies, the Sanders campaign framed its housing proposal in the context of what the average American faces versus Wall Street’s profits. “In America today, over 18 million families are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing, while last year alone the five largest banks on Wall Street made a record-breaking $111 billion in profits,” the campaign said in its description of Sanders’ plan.
Here are some of the many ways in which Sanders hopes to address Americans’ housing needs:
• Preventing Wall Street funds from selling large pools of mortgages
• Investing $1.48 trillion over a decade in the National Affordable Housing Trust to fund the building, rehabilitation and/or preservation of 7.4 million affordable housing units.
• Setting aside $70 billion to repair and modernize public housing.
• Creating a national cap on annual rent increases at no more than 3% or 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index (whichever is higher).
• Forming an office in the Department of Housing and Urban Development designed to strengthen rent control, tenant protections and inclusive zoning.
• Making federal funding contingent on states encouraging development that promotes integration and public transportation access.
• Instating a 25% home flipping tax on real-estate speculators who sell non-owner-occupied properties that sell for more than their original purchase price if sold within five years.
• Creating an independent National Fair Housing Agency in the vein of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that protects people from housing discrimination and enforces housing standards for renters.
• Investing $8 billion across HUD and the Department of Agriculture to form a first-time homebuyer assistance program
Affordable housing also features as part of Sanders’ proposal for an “Economic Bill of Rights.” During a campaign speech earlier this year, Sanders claimed that some Americans are “paying 40%, 50%, 60% of their limited income in housing” and called the situation “absurd.” Sanders has further referenced urban gentrification as an issue that needs to be addressed.
In the first Democratic presidential debate, Sanders also mentioned the country’s homeless population in response to a question about his calls for expanded government benefits.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
As she has done on other issues, such as student debt, Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, has released a detailed plan to tackle a wide variety of housing-related issues.
“Housing is not just the biggest expense for most American families — or the biggest purchase most Americans will make in their lifetimes,” the Warren campaign said in a post to the site Medium. “It also affects the jobs you can get, the schools your children can go to, and the kinds of communities you can live in. That’s why it’s so important that government gets housing policy right.”
To that end, Warren has introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which serves as the backbone of her affordable housing plan:
Elizabeth Warren has a plan to build, preserve or rehabilitate 3.2 million housing units for lower- and middle-income people to lower rents by 10%.
Warren’s plan includes, among other things:
• Building, preserving or rehabilitating 3.2 million housing units nationwide for lower- and middle-income people in order to lower rents by 10%. This, she said, would be funded by raising the estate tax back to Bush-era levels.
• Creating a down-payment assistance program designed to address the black-white homeownership gap by providing assistance to first-time home buyers who live in a formerly red-lined neighborhoods or communities that were segregated by law and are still currently low-income.
• Expanding fair-housing legislation to bar housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, veteran status or income.
• Extending the Community Reinvestment Act to require non-bank mortgage lenders invest in minority communities.
• Providing $2 billion in assistance to mortgage borrowers who are still underwater on their home loans following the financial crisis, meaning they owe more than their homes are worth.
• Instituting new requirements for sales of delinquent mortgages .
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro
Naturally, as the former HUD Secretary under President Obama, Castro has also put forth an extensive plan for addressing housing-related issues more broadly. Among the many ideas he suggested, Castro proposed:
• Ending chronic homelessness nationwide by 2028 by expanding funding for grant programs and creating a definition of homelessness at the federal level.
• Expanding the housing choice voucher program.
• Creating a refundable renters’ tax credit for households who spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
Julian Castro proposes allocating an additional $45 billion annually for the national Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund to support affordable housing initiatives.
• Allocating an additional $45 billion annually for the national Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund to support affordable housing initiatives.
• Reforming zoning laws to encourage the construction of affordable housing.
• Extending fair-housing protections to the LGBTQ community and to individuals who were previously incarcerated.
• Developing an approach to identify where gentrification is occurring and help households avoid being displaced.
• Establishing zoning policies that take into account climate change.
Sen. Cory Booker
In a post describing his broad plan to expand access to affordable housing, Cory Booker’s campaign called housing “a basic need and a basic right.” Here’s what the junior senator from New Jersey’s plan includes:
• Creating a tax credit that would aid in capping rental costs at 30% of before-tax income.
• Implementing zoning reform by requiring cities to eliminate restrictive zoning rules to qualify for federal loan and grant programs.
• Funding the construction of new housing units designated for low-income renters by providing $40 billion a year to the Housing Trust Fund.
Cory Booker wants to give $1,000 baby bonds to every child at birth, which can grow by up to $2,000 per year depending on the family’s income.
• Expanding fair-housing laws to prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or source of income.
• Expanding access to federal housing assistance programs.
• Creating a fund that would pay for legal counsel for renters facing eviction.
• Increasing the amount of money designated for grants given to communities to administer homelessness services.
• Giving $1,000 baby bonds to every child at birth, which can grow by up to $2,000 per year depending on the family’s income. This money could then be used to fund the down payment on the purchase of a home.
Sen. Kamala Harris
Earlier this month, Kamala Harris, the junior senator from California, released an extensive plan designed to increase the homeownership rate in black communities. This plan involved:
• Expanding the range of information used to create credit scores to include data such as rent and utility payments
Kamala Harris wants to create a refundable tax credit for households who make less than $100,000 a year and spend at least 30% of their income on housing costs.
• Setting aside $100 billion for federal grants that would help with down payments or closing costs for families who rent or live in historically redlined communities
• Strengthening anti-discrimination laws to prevent discrimination in home sales, rentals and mortgage lending
Additionally, Harris has introduced the Rent Relief Act, which would create a refundable tax credit for households who make less than $100,000 a year (or $125,000 in pricier areas) and spend at least 30% of their income on housing costs.
The Harris campaign did not return a request for comment.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Mayor Pete Buttigieg from South Bend, Ind. has put forth an extensive proposal, called the Douglass Plan, to address racial disparities in homeownership and wealth. The plan would create a “21st Century Community Homestead Act” that would be piloted in select cities across the country.