We asked presidential candidates: What would you do about California's housing crisis?
With home prices rising at twice the rate of wage growth, Americans across the country worry about the growing lack of affordable housing in their communities. In few places is the housing crisis as severe as California, which will face an estimated 3.5 million home shortage by 2025, ranks 49 out of the 50 states in homes per capita and has more than 150,000 individuals experiencing homelessness.
The next president will oversee the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and make budgetary decisions about issues ranging from rental assistance to low-income housing tax credits. We enlisted State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, to ask Democratic primary candidates about California's housing troubles and their plans to address them. Each candidate was given the same set of questions to answer within a specific timeframe. Some campaigns responded in the third person (e.g. "Senator Klobuchar believes ...") while other candidates responded themselves (e.g. "As president, I’ll invest ..."). Candidates that are not featured did not provide a response.
Andrew Yang: Current NIMBY (not in my backyard) and zoning laws have impeded the construction of new housing in certain areas to the point where the vast majority of Americans can’t afford to live in the largest cities. You don’t have to look any further than cities in California to see how true that is. I will work with local communities and government to relax zoning laws and NIMBYism to improve housing availability. I also support Low Income Housing Tax Credits, which will incentivize developers to build quality, affordable units. Democracy Dollars will help disempower the real estate and landlord lobbies that are preventing [California] from passing larger housing reforms. In addition, the Freedom Dividend will give Americans a basic income of $1,000 a month that will enable them to afford housing or move to other areas if desired.
Elizabeth Warren Campaign: Elizabeth has proposed a comprehensive housing plan for America. Her plan will bring down rental costs by 10% across the country by addressing the root causes of the problem: a severe lack of affordable housing supply and state and local land-use rules that needlessly drive up housing costs. Her plan invests $500 billion over the next 10 years to build, preserve, and rehab 3.2 million housing units that will be affordable to lower-income families. An independent analysis found her plan would create 1.5 million new jobs.
She also has a plan to protect and empower renters as part of the fight to end the affordable housing crisis and is committed to decriminalizing homelessness.
Pete Buttigieg: Our country has a housing crisis—not just a lack of affordable housing for those with the lowest incomes, but also not enough homes for working and middle-class Americans. The scarcity of housing drives up prices and pushes families further away from jobs and opportunities. I’ve proposed to dramatically increase federal support for affordable housing. We can unlock access to affordable housing for over 7 million American families by making significant investments in new affordable housing, Housing Choice Vouchers, and low-income homeownership programs.
But investment alone is not enough. In too many cities, restrictive local zoning and other building requirements limit housing development and contribute to housing shortages. I will require any city or county receiving federal housing funds to facilitate a participative, community-oriented process to set affordable housing strategy. This will include considering zoning reforms and other locally-determined rules that constrain new construction. This requirement is similar to the procedure for considering zoning impacts under the suspended Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. In cities with the highest rent burdens and most restrictive zoning requirements, I will instruct HUD to implement progressive restrictions of federal funding if localities fail to participate in such a process and implement necessary changes to keep housing affordable for their residents. Cities will continue to have the ability to take different approaches to upzoning, for example targeting transit-adjacent areas, implementing city-wide zoning reforms but restricting high-rise buildings to certain areas, or allowing accessory dwelling units in single-family neighborhoods.
There are also very simple solutions to the issues that many middle-class Americans face, including affording a home: raising wages and lowering costs. Economic progress has to mean that we are actually earning enough to live on. We need an economy where everyone is valued and respected in the workplace. Politicians are using GDP as a measure of success, instead of what matters most to workers: a rising income. When you target the wrong number, you get the wrong policies. As president, I will measure our success by the success of working Americans and their families. I will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, roll back corporate tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy, and lower costs in our health care system by passing Medicare for All Who Want It and lowering prescription drug prices.
Tom Steyer: Like so many problems of inequality, the housing crisis doesn’t exist in a vacuum — it’s the result of decades of discriminatory policies that disproportionately impact communities of color and funnel all the gains in our economy into the bank accounts of corporations and the rich. This affects all working families: We have to acknowledge that the spending power of workers’ wages haven’t increased in 40 years, while the cost of housing has risen faster than inflation.
As president I’ll invest $47 billion per year in affordable construction and renovation, and I’ll also expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit by 50% to create more than 500,000 affordable rental units. I will also reverse [President Donald] Trump’s efforts to weaken the Fair Housing Act to ensure that vulnerable communities are protected from housing discrimination, and I will ban landlords and rental agencies from discriminating against applicants based upon the source of their income or history of bankruptcy, if they demonstrate current cash flow and stability requirements for occupancy. For low- and middle-income renters, I’ll provide a quarterly tax credit based on the Small Area Fair Markets Rents designation.
When combined with a wealth tax, a broad working-class tax cut, and my People Over Profits economic agenda, my Affordable Housing plan will increase the availability of affordable housing while also increasing the amount of money in 95% of Americans’ bank accounts.
Bernie Sanders campaign: California has a shortage of more than one million affordable and available rental homes for families most in need. Bernie will end our affordable housing crisis in California and throughout the country and guarantee housing as a human right by investing $2.5 trillion over 10 years to build nearly 10 million permanently affordable housing units. Over the next decade, Bernie will invest more than $270 billion in California through the National Housing Trust Fund alone.
He will ensure that these units are not economically or racially segregated, and will provide incentives and federal funding for communities to build economically and racially integrated housing oriented around curbing emissions and [expanding] access to public transit. More than 151,000 people are experiencing homelessness in California on any given night. Bernie will invest nearly $32 billion to end homelessness in this country over a five-year period, including $26 billion towards permanent supportive housing. He’ll provide an additional $500 million to states and localities to expand case management and social services.
Bernie will ensure rent is affordable. He’ll enact a tenants' bill of rights, including a national rent control standard, Section 8 vouchers for everyone who qualifies, a “just-cause” requirement for evictions, and ensure the right to counsel in housing disputes. And he’ll invest $180 billion over 10 years in sustainable retrofits for public housing through his Green New Deal and $70 billion in his Housing for All plan to repair, modernize, and build new public housing.
Michael Bloomberg: I will address the housing shortage by providing a combination of incentives for cities and states to break down barriers—most notably restrictive zoning rules—that prevent the construction of affordable housing for both low-income and middle-class families. Research suggests that in major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, such zoning rules can inflate the cost of homes by 50% or more and, in particular, limit the supply of housing near transit, forcing more families into longer, more expensive commutes where their only option is paying to drive. Another consequence is that our transportation system is the leading source of carbon pollution. My plan to modernize the country's infrastructure and move toward a low-carbon transportation system includes investing in transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure, investments that would be designed to encourage transit-oriented development.
Amy Klobuchar campaign: Senator Klobuchar believes everyone deserves access to a safe and affordable home and she is committed to working with states like California to make housing more affordable. As part of her Housing First plan, she will completely eliminate the Section 8 backlog and make sure that every American who qualifies for Section 8 rental assistance receives a voucher or unit. She will also work to increase the supply of housing by promoting effective zoning rules to make it easier to build affordable housing in many areas and making a major investment to increase the supply of affordable housing, including in high opportunity neighborhoods. Senator Klobuchar will advocate for a new federal tax credit, similar to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, to encourage investment in family-owned homes in distressed neighborhoods. She will also address the rural housing crisis by strengthening rural rental assistance programs and significantly increasing investments in the rural housing supply.
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