Since Nobody Asked About Housing in Last Night’s Debate, Here’s Where the Democratic Candidates Stand

The moderators skipped over an issue that’s at the forefront in California
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On Thursday, seven democratic candidates took the stage at Loyola Marymount University to hash it out in the final Democratic debate of 2019. The Los Angeles sparring match was the smallest gathering of nominees yet, and saw candidates tackle a wide assortment of topics, from immigration to the economy to the role of billionaire-filled “wine caves” in electoral politics.

But to the surprise of many Californians, one big issue wasn’t addressed: housing. Though housing and homelessness rank among the top three issues Californians are most concerned about according to a recent survey, and Los Angeles is largely seen as the epicenter of a much larger nationwide housing crisis, the topics were only briefly touched on in the candidates’ answers, and not a single direct question was asked about them.

Despite the shocking omission, several of last night’s candidates have previously addressed or released plans for how they might tackle what’s becoming one of the nation’s most pressing issues—some of them more substantively than others. Here’s a breakdown of where they stand.

Joe Biden 

Biden, who currently has a very slight lead over Bernie Sanders in California, has not released a comprehensive housing plan, but claims in his “Plan to Invest in Middle Class Competitiveness” that he will do so later in his campaign. In the same plan, he states broadly that he will “boost federal investments” so that every American has access to housing. He has also expressed interest in providing housing for formerly incarcerated people, and for making federally funded low-income housing more environmentally friendly.

Bernie Sanders 

In September, the Vermont senator released a sweeping “Housing for All” plan, which proclaims that “every American must have a safe, decent, accessible, and affordable home as a fundamental right.” The plan calls for a $2.5 trillion investment in almost 10 million permanently affordable housing units, a $70 billion investment in both existing and new public housing projects, a boost in funding for Section 8 rental assistance, and an overhaul of zoning laws to promote inclusionary zoning and encourage development near transportation.

Perhaps most uniquely, Sanders’s plan proposes capping rents at 3 percent or 1.5 times the consumer price index nationwide, echoing a growing wave of local rent control movements that have swept liberal-leaning cities nationwide. He also aims to curb displacement by imposing a “house flipping tax” on people selling non-owner-occupied properties, and an “empty homes” tax to curb speculative investment (a similar law is being considered in Los Angeles).

Elizabeth Warren

Warren’s comprehensive “Housing Plan for America” aims to drive down spiking rental costs by investing $500 billion to build, preserve, and rehab units for lower-income families, an effort that she says would create 1.5 million new jobs. She also proposes targeted programs that would increase spending on rural housing programs, as well as on Native Hawaiian and Indian tribal lands. A $4 billion Middle-Class Housing Emergency Fund would additionally be created to support the construction of new housing for middle-class renters.

In the plan, Warren outlines her plans to address racial disparities in homeownership by creating a downpayment assistant program for homeowners in formerly redlined or segregated neighborhoods, and says she will ban additional housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, veteran status, and the source of one’s income, like a housing voucher.

Like Sanders, Warren also seems to be taking cues from the nation’s burgeoning tenants’ rights movement—in an addendum to her original plan, she proposed several new policies focused on protecting tenants rights and regulating corporate landlords. The plan would include the creation of a federal Tenant Protection Bureau that would prevent landlords from illegally raising rents or fees in federally subsidized housing, and would ensure protections like just-cause evictions.

Pete Buttigieg 

Buttigieg has not released a specific housing plan, but included plans to lower housing costs in a general economic plan released in November. He says he would spend $430 billion to “unlock access to affordable housing for over 7 million families,” and aims to build or restore over 2 million units for low income Americans. His so-called “Community Homestead Act” would also seek to address the racial wealth gap by purchasing abandoned properties and providing them to eligible residents in some cities, while “revitalizing” surrounding communities.

As Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg previously incited a “redevelopment” plan that bulldozed or repaired 1,000 vacant and abandoned houses in black and Latino neighborhoods—a plan that some residents of those communities say “smacked of gentrification.”

Amy Klobuchar

Just hours before she hit the stage on Thursday, Klobuchar released her “Housing First Plan,” which would invest over $1 trillion in housing and poverty reduction. In it, the Minnesota Senator outlined her plans to expand the Section 8 rental assistance program, cutting down its average wait time to three months and providing temporary assistance to those at risk of homelessness while they wait.

Klobuchar would also expand the Housing Trust Fund by at least $40 billion per year, in order to funnel more money into building, repairing, and maintaining housing for low-income families. A new federal grant program would be created to help increase outreach to low-income renters to help inform them about housing resources.

To cut down on discrimination, she would “ban the box,” or prevent landlords from asking about criminal convictions. States will also be given incentive to adopt just-cause eviction protections and a tenant bill of rights.

Andrew Yang

Yang has briefly outlined his goal of “relaxing zoning ordinances for the purpose of increasing the development of affordable housing” on his website, and says he would like to encourage developers to build more “innovative” housing options like microapartments and communal living in high-density areas. He also says his plan to pay a “universal basic income” of $1,000 to all Americans could help cut down on the cost of living.

Tom Steyer

The former hedge fund owner has proposed to invest $625 billion over ten years on existing housing programs, with a goal of building 3.5 million more units. He would also expand the federal Housing Choice Voucher program for low-income, elderly, and disabled Americans, and would create a renters’ tax credit for low and middle-income families. Eight billion dollars would be invested in assisting the homeless, and $195 billion would be mobilized to pay for clean and affordable housing in communities.

Julian Castro

Castro, former Housing and Urban Development secretary under Obama, didn’t qualify in the polls for Thursday’s debate, but he still spent the day touring skid row to meet with L.A.’s homeless community. His “People First Housing” plan, released back in June, asserts that housing is a human right, and proposes expanding the Housing Choice Voucher Program, creating a Renters’ Tax Credit for low and middle income renters, and expanding funding for affordable housing by at least $45 billion per year. It also includes some particularly ambitious plans for ending homelessness, like tripling the government’s homeless assistance grants to $7.5 billion, and setting big goals to end veteran homelessness and child, family, and youth homelessness by the end of his first term.


RELATED: California’s Legislature Just Passed a Statewide Rent-Control Bill


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