Democratic candidates are talking a lot about the lack of affordable housing, an issue that rarely, if ever, comes up in an election. They’re trying to tap into a growing national concern, as well as a potential voting bloc.
Several of the candidates have offered extensive plans that they say would address the housing shortage that is affecting millions of low and middle income voters. Some of the Democratic hopefuls have proposed everything from refundable tax credits for overburdened renters, to spending billions of dollars on new affordable housing. They’ve also raised the issue as a prime example of racial and income inequality.
”It is not acceptable that, in communities throughout the country, wealthy developers are gentrifying neighborhoods and forcing working families out of the homes and apartments where they have lived their entire lives,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote recently in the Las Vegas Sun.
California Sen. Kamala Harris was met with cheers at a gathering of housing advocates in Washington, D.C. earlier this year when she said, “The right to housing should be understood to be a fundamental right, a human right, a civil right.”
Diane Yentel, executive director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, like what she is hearing.
“We’ve seen candidates talking more about the crisis and the solutions than we have I think in entire presidential campaigns in history,” she says.
Yentel thinks it’s a indication of the severity of the problem. Rents around the country have been rising faster than wages and almost half of all renters now have to spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing.
“For voters who are in the rental housing market, the cost of housing is as big an economic stressor as virtually anything else,” says Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, whose polling has found housing costs are an issue in every region of the country, as well as in cities, rural areas and suburbs.
And, he says, the concern is growing. When Garin asked voters in 2016 if they thought housing affordability was a problem where they lived, 39 percent said it was a fairly serious or very serious problem. This year, that number is 60 percent.
President Trump has argued that tax cuts are helping the economy, which in turn helps all Americans. The administration has said it hopes to increase the supply of affordable housing by providing tax incentives for construction in economically distressed areas, called Opportunity Zones, and by eliminating restrictive zoning laws.