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Yes, Your Rent Is Too Damn High. Here's What 2020 Democrats Want to Do About It.

Where the candidates stand on rent supports, increasing housing supply, and nerdy stuff like zoning.

by Emma Ockerman
Jun 26 2019, 7:07pm

Most Democrats would seem to agree that, yes, the rent is too damn high.

But really. There’s no denying that America is currently the middle of a housing crisis that’s squeezing everyday workers and exacerbating homelessness in both major and small rental markets across the country.

The U.S. needs to sprout at least 7.2 million affordable rental homes to meet the needs of Americans at or below the poverty level, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In 99% of U.S. counties, there’s no affordable one-bedroom rental for a full-time, minimum-wage worker, according to the advocacy group.

And it’s only getting worse. While rents are notoriously high in San Francisco (up 6% in the last year to $3,700 for a one-bedroom, according to Zumper) and New York (up 4.2% to $2,980 for a similar unit), rents are also climbing in places like Anchorage, Fresno and Spokane.

Meanwhile, 2020 Democratic candidates aren’t totally in agreement on how they’ll help more people make their monthly rent. Some don’t appear to have plans at all.

For the most part, candidates’ existing plans center around increasing the available affordable housing stock, offering tax credits so people can afford the existing housing stock, or a combination of the two. A few more candidates have gotten really into the weeds (reminder: Julian Castro used to run the federal agency for Housing and Urban Development) with proposals that seek to reform zoning laws, ideally to allow more multi-family units in neighborhoods that have long resisted them.

Here’s how candidates say they’ll get housing prices down:

ELIZABETH WARREN

Direct rent support: No announced plan

Increase housing supply: Has a plan

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s state has a pretty pressing affordable housing crisis. Rental prices for a one-bedroom in Boston are up nearly 9 percent since June 2018, according to Zumper. The state hosts the third most expensive rental market for a two-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

To get an idea of what Warren might do as president, it’s worth looking at her massive American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which she re-introduced in the Senate earlier this year. The bill would invest nearly $500 billion over 10 years into the National Housing Trust Fund — a government program that pays for building and restoring low-income rentals — to construct more than 3 million affordable housing units in hopes of bringing down rents 10%.

Additionally, to sweeten the prospect of affordable housing on wary cities, Warren’s plan would allow cities access to a $10 billion competitive infrastructure grant program in exchange for reformed regulations that lower costs for developers and builders.

“Enacting the plan will be a top priority of my administration — because every American deserves a safe, decent, and affordable place to live,” Warren said in her Medium post announcing the legislation.

As a bonus, Warren isn’t only focused on rent. Her plan included $2 billion in investments on buyers who have negative equity on their mortgages after the 2008 financial crisis. People who lived in formerly redlined areas — basically areas segregated by the government — would also get down payment assistance when buying their first home.

BERNIE SANDERS

Direct rent support: No announced plan

Increase housing supply: Had a plan for 2016 that’s likely to resurface in some way

A spokesperson for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign said he’ll release a proposal regarding affordable housing later in his run.

“Our plan will invest in affordable housing, repair our existing public housing stock, ensure that rent remains affordable, address racial discrimination in lending and zoning, and end homelessness, among other priorities,” the spokesperson said.

For a bit of background, however, it’s worth noting that Sanders introduced the legislation that many of his opponents have invoked in their own proposals: the National Housing Trust Fund. The program gives cash to states to build and preserve rental units for extremely low-income tenants.

When Sanders ran for President in 2016, he said he’d expand the National Housing Trust Fund to at least $5 billion a year, ensuring at least 3.5 million affordable rental homes would be built over the span of a decade

“The lack of affordable housing is one of the great crises facing this country and localities should have the freedom to protect residents of their communities from the high cost of housing,” Sanders said in an October Facebook post.

KAMALA HARRIS

Direct rent support: Has a plan

Increase housing supply: No announced plan

Sen. Kamala Harris represents one of the most rent-burdened states in the country: California. She introduced the Rent Relief Act in 2018 and re-introduced it this year, serving as part of her presidential platform.

The legislation would create a refundable tax credit for people making up to $100,000 a year who spend at least 30 percent of their gross annual income on rent — utilities included. (A person’s rent would have to be in-line with the average housing cost in any given neighborhood.) The tax credit would come on a monthly basis, and gradually wind down as a family’s household gross income increases.

An analysis of the original bill found it’d cost $94 billion a year, but would lift 7.8 million Americans out of poverty, according to Housing Wire.

“America’s affordable housing crisis has left too many families behind who struggle each month to keep a roof over their head,” Harris said in a statement when she re-introduced the bill. “This bill will ensure no family is priced out of the basic security of a place to live. Bolstering the economic security of working families would strengthen our country and increase opportunity.”

CORY BOOKER

Direct rent support: Has a plan

Increase housing supply: Has a plan

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced a progressive housing plan this month called the Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, and Equity (HOME) Act. It mirrored a bill he introduced to the Senate last August.

Basically, it’ll give low-income renters a tax credit to help them out on their housing costs. If someone spends more than 30 percent of their pre-tax income on rent, they’ll be eligible for a tax credit that equals the difference between their rent and their earnings. Families would receive a median tax credit of $4,800, according to Booker. He’d also offer up incentives for communities to drop restrictive zoning laws.

Also, Booker has proposed so-called “baby bonds,” which would help low-income Americans in being able to afford a down payment on a home. Every child born in the U.S. would receive a $1,000 savings account, and the government would automatically deposit an amount each year depending on the family’s income, with an annual rate of return of around 3%. The child wouldn’t be able to access the funds until they’re 18. For a child whose family was consistently below the poverty line, earning about $25,100 or less for a family of four, they’d wind up with more than $46,000 when they turn 18.

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND

Direct rent support: No announced plan

Increase housing supply: No announced plan

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has not yet released her own housing plan, but co-sponsored both Warren and Harris’ rental legislation in the Senate. Her campaign did not respond to a VICE News request for comment.

JOE BIDEN

Direct rent support: No announced plan

Increase housing supply: No announced plan

Former vice president Joe Biden has not yet released a detailed housing policy, and his spokesperson did not respond to a VICE News request for comment.

AMY KLOBUCHAR

Direct rent support: No announced plan

Increase housing supply: No announced plan

In late March, her campaign said it would release a “comprehensive housing policy” in the weeks to come, and then never did. Her campaign did not respond to a VICE News request for comment.

PETE BUTTIGIEG

Direct rent support: No announced plan

Increase housing supply: No announced plan

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg says he wants to invest in affordable housing, reform land use laws, and protect tenants, but has not yet offered up a specific policy proposal. His campaign did not respond to a VICE News request for comment.

BETO O’ROURKE

Direct rent support: No announced plan

Increase housing supply: No announced plan

Beto O’Rourke has not yet released a detailed policy proposal on affordable housing, but his campaign sent VICE News a few general things he’d like to do if made president.

“Beto believes that no matter where you live, every American should be able to afford a roof over their head,” a spokesperson for O’Rourke’s campaign said in an emailed statement. “Beto wants to increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund (HTF) which would help to finance an increase in the stock of affordable housing and rental assistance programs. Beto also believes we need to ensure that economic development does not come at the expense of communities, pushing people out."

JAY INSLEE

Direct rent support: No announced plan

Increase housing supply: No announced plan

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has been actively dealing with a housing and homelessness crisis at home while out on the campaign trail. His office has signed bills overhauling burdensome eviction laws in Washington while advocating for investing millions into affordable housing. But he does not yet have a national proposal for addressing affordable housing. His campaign did not respond to a VICE News request for comment.

JULIAN CASTRO

Direct rent support: Has a plan

Increase housing supply: Has a plan

Julian Castro, the former head of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration, recently released one of the most detailed housing platforms of the 2020 candidates. His plan calls for expanding some HUD-run programs for low-income renters, like the Housing Choice Voucher program, while creating a progressive renters’ tax credit for people who spend more than 30 percent of their rent on income but make 50 to 100 percent of the area median income.

Under Castro’s plan, such a tax credit would take into account what fair rent should look like for any given tenant. It could also be deposited into tax-advantaged bank account, which would later be used for a downpayment on a mortgage.

Castro also suggested increasing the Housing Trust Fund and Capital Management fund by $45 billion per year, while implementing zoning reforms to increase affordable housing developments.

Cover: A sign advertises an apartment for rent along a row of brownstone townhouses in the Fort Greene neighborhood on June 24, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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