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Here's how the top Democratic presidential hopefuls would fix the affordable housing crisis

James DeHaven, Reno Gazette Journal

Published 6:00 a.m. PT Aug. 12, 2019 | Updated 9:40 a.m. PT Aug. 12, 2019

For the first time in decades, housing policy is back in the national political spotlight.

Several top candidates in a massive field vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have already rolled out plans to soothe a rash of regional housing emergencies brought on by a post-recession surge in real estate prices. 

A handful have even spelled out their housing proposals in Nevada newspaper editorials, a sure sign that they expect the spiraling affordability crisis to be top-of-mind for many participants in the Silver State’s crucial early caucus. 

A Reno Gazette Journal review of policy blueprints from 9 of the 10 highest-polling2020 hopefuls found proposed reforms ranged from eviction protections to baby bonds, though most candidates tended to focus on three better-known policy tools: Housing trust funds, tax credits and zoning reforms. 

So which plans would actually work?

Nevada housing experts reached by the RGJ tended to favor trust fund-heavy proposals that they said would help the state build its way out of the housing crunch.

They were particularly fond of platforms pushed by Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker.

“In my opinion, they are more thoughtful and comprehensive than what other candidates have put out,” said J.D. Klippenstein, executive director of ACTIONN, a Reno-based housing nonprofit. “They are also much closer to the scale of investment we need to truly address a growing national housing affordability crisis. 

“In particular, all three call for a significant increase in funding to the National Housing Trust Fund, which is one of the most important tools we have at the federal level and I think a threshold policy for any candidate's housing plan or proposal.”

Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman and ex-Senate candidate, did not return requests for comment. Here’s a closer look at what the other candidates are calling for:

Housing trust funds 

Progressive U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Warren, D-Mass., have released plans that are heavily reliant on multibillion-dollar cash infusions into the National Housing Trust Fund. The fund, created in 2016, doles out money to states to help build permanently affordable housing for the poorest households.

Warren: The senator in March released a characteristically detailed proposal that aims to add $500 billion to the fund over the next 10 years. She says that investment will help create 3.2 million housing units and 1.5 million new jobs over the next decade, eventually lowering rents by some 10 percent. 

The two-term senator’s plan goes on to propose additional down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers in formerly red-lined or segregated neighborhoods and $2 billion in aid for underwater homeowners. 

Her plan — paid for through the restoration of an estate tax on high-dollar inheritances — would also put $10 billion into a new program that offers infrastructure grants to local officials who reform land use rules to encourage affordable housing development. 

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