Affordable rental units for minimum-wage workers literally don’t exist in much of America, but the Democratic presidential candidates haven’t made an issue of it — until Wednesday night’s debate in Atlanta.
Tom Steyer, a billionaire from California, was asked during the fifth debate what he would do to address a rampant homelessness and housing affordability crisis in his home state. (Steyer, however, is among the few Democratic candidates that hasn’t yet released a clear housing agenda.) Steyer’s answer focused primarily on a lack of development driving up prices on rental units.
“What we’ve seen in California is that as a result of policy, we have millions too few housing units,” Steyer said, potentially referring to the state’s infamous NIMBY-ism, which can make it tough for developers to enter new contracts.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who represents a state with its own unique rental crisis, brought up racial inequity in U.S. housing policy and how that’s created a wider wealth gap.
"Housing is how we build wealth in America,” she said. “The federal government has subsidized the purchase of housing for decades for white people, and has said for black people, ‘You're cut out of the deal.’ That was known as redlining."
Warren said her plan will address not just building new units but also the government policies that have led to starkly segregated neighborhoods.
Sen. Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, said his plan would include generous tax credits for low-income renters but would also seek to address gentrification. He also mentioned that he once served as a tenants’ rights lawyer.
“We’ve got to start empowering people,” Booker said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, unprompted and earlier in the debate before the housing question, mentioned that "18 million Americans are paying half of their limited incomes for housing."
Texas politician Julian Castro didn't qualify for Wednesday’s debate, but as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration he has repeatedly asked that debate moderators address housing issues in recent months. He took a swipe at the question finally making the cut on Twitter, before adding that he believes housing is a human right.
“Finally, housing question,” Castro wrote. “Wonder who could have answered that one?”
Cover: Democratic presidential candidate investor Tom Steyer speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.