What the Presidential Candidates Said on Housing

Published by Peter Lawrence on Thursday, October 22, 2015 - 12:00am

Housing isn’t getting much attention in the 2016 presidential campaign. The issue wasn’t brought up in first two Republican debates in Cleveland and Simi Valley, Calif., nor in the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas.

Recognizing this, the affordable housing community realized that it needed to take the conversation to the candidates in the crucial early primary voting states. The J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families sponsored a housing summit Oct. 16 in Manchester, N.H., that included discussions with seven presidential candidates (in order of appearance): former Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark.; Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.; former Gov. George Pataki, R-N.Y.; former Gov. Jim Gilmore, R-Va.; and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Following are highlights from their housing remarks:

Former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland

Gov. O’Malley pledged to double the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) as part of his “Agenda for American Cities and Communities.” He also called for Congress to expand funding for Section 8 housing choice vouchers, especially for extremely low-income families who need rental assistance the most.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina

During his time in the House more than a decade ago, Sen. Graham cosponsored a bill championed by former Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., that increased LIHTC allocations by 40 percent and voted for legislation sponsored by former Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., that created the new markets tax credit (NMTC).  Both of these bills were eventually enacted in the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000.

However, in his opening remarks Graham admitted that housing was not a top priority. However, he commented on the housing needs of low-income seniors–homeowners and renters–and suggested that Congress need to take action to address them. The best way to do that, Graham argued, was through public-private partnerships that combine private capital with a limited amount of government money. The LIHTC is the nation’s premier example of public-private partnerships. Graham also noted that the nation’s fiscal condition limits how much government funding will be available and stressed the importance of getting the budget in balance before significantly increasing housing subsidies.

Former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas

Gov. Huckabee got attention from housing advocates several months ago when he mentioned the need for affordable housing and called out Habitat for Humanity as an organization that deserved more support, an unusually specific and ground-breaking remark for an inaugural campaign speech.

When asked why housing is not addressed in presidential debates, Huckabee noted that it wasn’t an issue that sharply divided the candidates and thus didn’t provide good debate material.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey

Gov. Christie noted that he leads the most densely populated state in the nation, which often pits developers against environmentalists, making consensus on affordable housing solutions hard to achieve. Despite this, he asserted he has been successful in incentivizing mixed-income development in urban areas and appeared to endorse inclusionary zoning where developers agree to include a portion of affordable units in market-rate developments.

Former Republican Gov. George Pataki of New York

Gov. Pataki was blunt in his assessment. “The biggest single impediment to [developing affordable housing] is that there is a conflict those who believe the government should do everything and those of us who believe that the housing problem should be resolved by the private sector,” he said. He said that the government “should not tell landlords to lower rents,” but instead “lower the tax burden so the landlords will be able to lower rents.”

Former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia

Gov. Gilmore focused his remarks on growing the economy and creating jobs. He appeared to suggest that if the federal government lowered taxes and reduced regulations to promote growth, people will get higher-paying jobs and be able to affordable housing

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky

Sen. Paul argued for balancing the federal budget as one of his main motivations for running for president, and said the nation’s debt was crushing Americans. Therefore, cutting spending–presumably including housing spending–was one of his top priorities. However, he was open a role for government to help provide a “housing safety net” for the poorest Americans.  Paul also noted his proposal to create tax-free zones for poor communities–urban and rural–to incentivize private capital to flow into those communities to create jobs and businesses. Such a proposal is similar in concept to the NMTC.

What’s Next?

This unique New Hampshire event was worthwhile and gave the affordable housing community an opportunity to press the case while candidates’ campaign platforms are being formed. However the leading candidates in both parties–Republicans Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush; and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders–did not attend the event, nor sent any campaign staff to present their positions. Here’s hoping that the leading candidates follow the lead of the seven who showed up in Manchester to develop a housing platform to address the nation’s housing needs.

For a more in-depth discussion of what was said at the forum, see the Policy Points column in the November issue of the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credits.