How do Democratic Presidential Candidates Compare on Affordable Housing?

Published by Michael Novogradac on Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Journal cover thumb October 2019

It’s more than a year until the next presidential election and more than nine months from the conventions at which the major parties will settle on their nominees and their respective policy platforms, but Democratic Party candidates for president have already made affordable housing a key issue.

How important an issue housing will become in the general election is an open question, but as the large field of Democrat contenders works its way toward the primary and caucus season, there is a range of views about how to address the need for affordable housing. Many candidates have done more than just talk about affordable housing. Several announced detailed plans to address the nation’s affordable housing crunch and every candidate currently in Congress has sponsored or cosponsored legislation in the area.

“A full 14 months before election day, housing policy is part of the presidential campaigns like never before,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Eleven presidential candidates have released major plans or other proposals to address the housing crisis, with most of the plans centering on the needs of the lowest-income renters and people experiencing homelessness and more candidate housing proposals are coming soon. This is in part a reflection of the severity of the crisis itself and in large part due to voters demanding solutions.”

Candidates have addressed the issue in a variety of ways. Some propose increasing funding for such things as the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) and National Housing Trust Fund (HTF), while others propose tax credits for renters and still others tackle zoning issues that restrict the development of multifamily affordable housing.

There is still time for candidates to develop and release more extensive policies and proposals for addressing the nation’s affordable housing crisis. But as the field continues to narrow, Novogradac considered how the top 10 candidates compare on the issue of affordable housing. This assessment is based on what we know as of Sept. 16 about the 10 candidates who had enough support (in polls and in number of supporters who donated to their campaigns) to qualify for the Sept. 12 debate in Houston. These classifications are not an endorsement of any candidate, policy or proposal, but rather a consideration of how extensive a role affordable housing has played in the campaigns so far.  

Borrowing the Community Reinvestment Act rating scale, campaigns have been sorted into four categories: outstanding, high satisfactory, low satisfactory and needs improvement. 

Outstanding 

Julian Castro
You would hope, and even expect, Julian Castro, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, to feature affordable housing as one of the cornerstones of his campaign, and he doesn’t disappoint.

Castro proposes a 50 percent expansion of the LIHTC and an expansion of the housing choice voucher program, including making vouchers an entitlement for extremely low-income families. He also has expressed support for a refundable renter’s credit for low-income families who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, an increase of $45 million in annual funding for the HTF and the Capital Magnet Fund and for reforming zoning laws to encourage affordable housing.

Elizabeth Warren
The senator from Massachusetts released a detailed plan nearly a year ago to address affordable housing and introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act (S. 787), which would invest $445 billion over a decade in the HTF to build more than 3 million affordable homes.

Elizabeth Warren’s campaign calls for building, preserving or rehabilitating 3.2 million housing units nationwide for lower- and middle-income people, funded by an increase in the estate tax. She also waded into some compliance issues, calling for an extension of the Community Reinvestment Act 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. She was a co-sponsor of the 2017 version of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (AHCIA).

High Satisfactory

Cory Booker
The New Jersey Senator penned a July article on Medium in which he outlined what he called a plan to “provide safe, affordable housing for all Americans.” In that post, Cory 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). His legislation would also require cities to drop land-use restrictions that make it harder and more expensive to build affordable housing.

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

Kamala Harris
The California senator, a co-sponsor of the 2017 iteration of the AHCIA, released a plan focused on increased homeownership in black communities and also introduced the Rent Relief Act (S. 1106), which would create a refundable tax credit for households earning less than $100,000 per year who spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing costs.

Kamala Harris is familiar with the housing crunch as she represents a state that’s among the most rent-burdened in the nation–leading to an effort by the state to invest billions in programs to maximize affordable housing production.

Amy Klobuchar
The Minnesota senator released a comprehensive housing plan in July, calling 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.

Amy Klobuchar’s housing plan focuses on rural housing, but she has also has focused on what she would do in her first 100 days in office. Included in that plan is a reversal of the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to public housing, expanding a program that helps families with children relocate to neighborhoods of higher opportunity and suspending changes to fair housing policies introduced by HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

Klobuchar calls for expanding the housing choice voucher program to include all qualifying households with children, rather than the current system in which there is a specific dollar amount allocated.

Bernie Sanders
In a mid-September speech in Las Vegas, the Independent senator from Vermont called for a $2.5 trillion federal investment in housing over a decade. Sanders said he would expand the HTF, provide full funding of the housing choice voucher program and 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’ campaign said it would release a full housing plan in coming weeks.

Bernie Sanders previously focused on broader issues, but includes affordable housing in his proposed “Economic Bill of Rights” on his website. Sanders, another co-sponsor of the previous version of the AHCIA, has called what many Americans pay for housing “absurd” and said urban gentrification is one of the reasons. 

Low Satisfactory

Pete Buttigieg
The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., released a housing policy outline with a goal of addressing racial disparities in homeownership and wealth, primarily through purchasing abandoned properties and providing them to eligible residents for purchase.

Pete Buttigieg says he would fund national investment in affordable housing construction, would reform land-use rules and would expand protections for tenants. He is also a former member of the advisory council for Accelerator for America, an organization that has been actively involved in promoting OZs. Although Buttigieg addresses affordable housing broadly, his ranking suffers because he lacks specifics. Buttigieg had not released a comprehensive affordable housing plan at the time of this publication. 

Beto O’Rourke
The former Texas congressional representative has said he would increase HTF funding to build more affordable housing, but hasn’t issued any plans concerning general affordable housing.

Beto O’Rourke was one of 182 co-sponsors of the AHCIA of 2017 when he was in the House.

Needs Improvement

Joe Biden
The longtime senator and two-term vice president was the early leader in polls, pulling around 30 percent in most surveys. While he has an extensive record– Joe Biden entered the Senate in 1973 as a 30-year-old and served eight years as vice president, starting in 2009–he doesn’t emphasize housing. 

Joe Biden has not released a significant affordable housing plan, but 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 stance.

Andrew Yang
Andrew Yang is an outlier of the top 10 candidates in multiple ways, as an attorney and entrepreneur whose campaign 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.

Conclusion

Looking at the depth and extensiveness of the candidates’ policies, proposals and statements released at the time of this writing, there is a wide range of how central an issue affordable housing is to the 10 campaigns considered. 

That said, the breadth and depth of discussion concerning affordable housing in the Democratic presidential campaign is a refreshing change from recent election cycles and the expectation is that it will continue to be a front-burner issue. There is still time for the candidates lower on the list to develop more robust plans or positions on affordable housing.

Whether affordable housing remains a priority as the field narrows to what will ultimately be a single Democratic candidate is an open question, as is the question of whether affordable housing will be a major issue in the general election. 

Here’s what we know, though: Trump’s time in office has seen a significant shift in many affordable housing policies, from affirmatively furthering fair housing to proposed cuts to HUD funding to a vast expansion of HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program to housing finance reform. 

Democrats will have an opportunity to differentiate themselves from Trump on matters of affordable housing. Whether they will depends largely on who gains the nomination and what other events compete for attention.