How Democratic Presidential Candidates Rank on Affordable Housing as Primaries Near

Published by Michael Novogradac on Monday, January 6, 2020 - 12:00am

The withdrawal of Julian Castro, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and mayor of San Antonio, from the Democratic presidential race Jan. 2 means Democrats lost the candidate who was arguably the biggest champion for affordable housing issues.

The good news is that Castro wasn’t a lone voice on the issue.

Whether it was due to Castro’s passion about housing issues–he advocated a 50 percent expansion of the low-income housing tax credit and an expansion of the housing choice voucher program–or the growing awareness of the national affordable housing crunch, Democratic candidates have addressed affordable housing issues more than in any recent presidential campaign.

Novogradac first looked at the major Democratic candidates’ affordable housing stances in the October issue of the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credits. Since then, several candidates have released developed housing plans and others have dropped out of the race. With the Iowa Caucuses coming Feb. 3–followed by a string of primaries and caucuses in rapid-fire succession–it’s an opportune time to revisit their stances.

This ranking borrows the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) rating scale, sorting campaigns into four categories: outstanding, high satisfactory, low satisfactory and needs improvement.  The plans are evaluated primarily for completeness.

Following are the rankings for the eight candidates who have 2 percent of the vote or more, based on the Real Clear Politics average at the end of 2019. (When there are multiple candidates with the same rating, they are listed in alphabetical order.)


Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar released her Housing First plan in December, vowing to invest more than $1 trillion in housing and poverty reduction. Her plan calls for full funding for anyone who qualifies for Section 8 rental assistance and would limit the waiting time for Section 8 assistance to three months. Klobuchar would expand funding to the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) at a minimum of $40 billion annually, increase funding for the Capital Magnet Fund (CMF) and lift the volume cap on private activity bonds that are used for multifamily rental housing. Klobuchar’s campaign also vows to push to expand low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) allocations and to address an estimated $50 billion need in capital repairs for public housing.

The Minnesota senator previously called for expanding LIHTCs to include more apartments in high-opportunity neighborhoods–paid for by raising the capital gains tax rate and raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 25 percent.

Bernie Sanders

The Independent senator from Vermont calls for an investment of nearly $1.5 trillion in the HTF to build, rehabilitate and preserve 7.4 million housing units as part of an ambitious plan he calls “Housing for All.”

Sanders also pledges to invest $400 billion to build 2 million mixed-income social housing units to be administered through the HTF, to expand the United States Department of Agriculture Section 515 program by $500 million and increase the Indian Housing Block Grant program to $3 billion. Sanders also says he’ll invest $70 billion to repair and modernize public housing and fully fund the Section 8 program at $410 billion over 10 years while making it mandatory funding for all eligible households.

Sanders also says he’d institute a national rent control standard of limiting rent increases to 3 percent or 150 percent of the rate of inflation, whichever is higher. Sanders is a cosponsor of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (AHCIA) of 2019 and was a cosponsor of the 2017 version of the AHCIA.

Elizabeth Warren

The senator from Massachusetts released a detailed plan in March 2019 to address affordable housing, around the same time she introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act (S. 787). That legislation would require the investment of $445 billion in the HTF over a decade to build more than 3 million affordable homes. This fall, she updated the plan, including a proposal to allow public housing authorities or other public institutions to use LIHTC equity and funds from the HTF, CMF or HOME programs to develop properties while maintaining public ownership.

Warren’s campaign calls for an extension of the CRA to non-bank-mortgage lenders and to extend fair-housing coverage to bar discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, veteran status or income. Warren also promises a $10 billion grant program for infrastructure, but would require cities to reform land-use rules to be eligible. She was a co-sponsor of the 2017 version of the AHCIA.

High Satisfactory

Cory Booker

The New Jersey senator wrote an article last summer where he outlined what he called a plan to “provide safe, affordable housing for all Americans.” Booker referenced the Housing Opportunity, Mobility and Equity (HOME) Act of 2018 (S. 3342), a bill he sponsored that called for a tax credit to help cap rental costs at 30 percent of income (by providing a credit that covered the difference between 30 percent of residents’ income and their rent, capped at the neighborhood fair market rent). Booker’s legislation would also require cities to drop land-use restrictions that make it harder and more expensive to build affordable housing. Sen. Booker is another current and previous sponsor of the AHCIA.

Booker is a leading proponent of the opportunity zones (OZ) incentive in the Senate and a former co-sponsor of the AHCIA. He called for fully funding the HTF at $40 billion annually to expand access to federal housing assistance programs. Booker called for using federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to encourage or require local governments to loosen zoning restrictions for affordable housing.

Pete Buttigieg

The mayor of South Bend, Ind., said he would spend $430 billion on programs to lower housing costs, pledging to invest billions of dollars in the HTF, CMF, HOME and CDBG programs, as well as the LIHTC. Buttigieg promised to invest $170 billion so that all eligible families with children receive housing choice vouchers and have access to wraparound services. He also vowed to increase national affordable housing investment and to fund a national investment in affordable housing construction.

Buttigieg promised to reform zoning laws and to repair or replace public housing stock. He is a former member of the advisory council for Accelerator for America, an organization that has been actively involved in promoting OZs.

Low Satisfactory

Michael Bloomberg

The former New York City mayor pledges a sweeping housing plan, including that he would expand the LIHTC, adding hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing over a decade, according to his campaign. However, he is short on specifics.

Bloomberg also promised to create a $10 billion competitive grant program for municipalities to address zoning laws that restrict the development of affordable housing and increase spending on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) HOME and CDBG programs, as well as the capital fund for affordable housing.

Needs Improvement

Joe Biden

The two-term vice president and longtime senator remains the front-runner in the polls, but hasn’t emphasized housing in his campaign. Biden promised in mid-November to release a housing plan, but hasn’t done so.

Earlier, Biden set a goal of housing 100 percent of formerly incarcerated people, citing the fact that the formerly incarcerated are 10 times more likely to be homeless than the rest of the population. That proposal was part of Biden’s criminal-justice reform plan.

Andrew Yang

The campaign of Yang, an attorney and entrepreneur, has focused on such things as universal basic income–a proposal he says would make a huge dent in homelessness and other housing issues.

On Yang’s website, the primary mention of affordable housing deals with revisiting zoning rules, but without many specifics.