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Here's Where All The Democratic Presidential Candidates Stand On Housing

The Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election have no shortage of issues on which they disagree with President Donald Trump and his policies, but distinguishing themselves from one another is a more subtle matter.

One of the key issues emerging in the primary is housing affordability. Two of the biggest names in the race, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have been vocal with their desires to see national housing policy reflect the growing call for rent control in major cities worldwide. Other candidates' views range from specific and multifaceted to nonexistent. 

Bisnow compiled a list of the housing and real estate-related campaign platforms of the 12 candidates who will be participating in the Democratic primary debate on Oct. 15. A spokesperson for Sen. Amy Klobuchar declined to comment to Bisnow beyond a link to her campaign's blog post on the topic, while none of the other 11 responded to multiple requests for comment.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking at a campaign stop in Iowa during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders served as senator for Vermont for years as an independent candidate who identified as a Democratic Socialist, and although he caucuses with the Democratic Party and campaigns for its nomination, his politics retain their leftist bent.

On his campaign website, Sanders lays claim to first introducing what would become the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund when he was a congressman in 2001. He says what ultimately got passed in 2016 was a "modest version" of his bill, but claims the NAHTF has spent $905M on affordable housing construction and preservation.

As part of his platform called Housing for All that he debuted in September, Sanders promised to invest $1.5 trillion into the NAHTF over a period of 10 years to close the gap between affordable housing supply and demand — which Sanders estimates to be 7.4 million units. He also supports the repeal of the Faircloth Amendment, which prevents the federal government from growing the stock of public housing in the country.

Sanders says he seeks the imposition of a national cap on rent increases in multifamily properties at either 3% of the previous year's rent or 150% of the consumer price index per year, whichever is higher, while allowing an exception for suitable capital improvements. Those limits are stricter than those the California state legislature passed last month.

The senator's platform also includes a ban on state laws preventing cities from enacting inclusionary zoning policies, a first-time homeowner encouragement program, sustainability programs and a promise to "end the mass sale of mortgages to Wall Street vulture funds and thoroughly investigate and regulate the practices of large rental housing investors and owners."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaking at a Democratic Party event in Iowa on April 20, 2019.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Warren introduced a bill in the Senate last year that would add $445B in funding to the NATHF, which she estimated would add over 2 million affordable housing units to the country's supply, funded by a property tax that would no longer be decreased as in the current tax code.

In March, Warren reintroduced the bill, while an identical piece of legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill has not made any progress in the Republican-controlled Senate, serving more as a way to underscore the level of detail to which she has approached the topic. 

Warren's bill, the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, also includes provisions to reverse some of the lingering effects of past discriminatory housing policies. It would restrict Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's ability to sell mortgages it purchases to buyers who would displace existing residents.

Warren also supports a federal law that would preclude any statewide ban on cities passing rent control legislation. The AHEMA would create a national grant program to help cities build infrastructure, parks or schools, but only give out awards to cities that have zoning codes that allow for the creation of "well-located" affordable housing.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg

The sitting mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg's campaign platform includes one plank for affordable housing, which he proposes tackling with a Community Homestead Act. The measure would create a federal trust that would buy abandoned land and turn it over to residents at risk of displacement or in search of their first home.

Aside from the Community Homestead Act, which Buttigieg says is to directly "attack the racial wealth gap," his website mentioned the need to fund affordable housing construction, strengthen tenant protections against eviction and eradicate homelessness for families with children, though he didn't give specifics on how these would be accomplished.

Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigning in 2012.

Joe Biden

Within the former vice president's Biden Plan for Strengthening America's Commitment to Justice, he stated an intention to set a national goal that 100% of all prison inmates are ensured housing upon their release. Biden said he would direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to only contract with landlords "open to housing individuals looking for a second chance."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

In a July blog post, Klobuchar laid out a housing plan focused on strengthening in-place policies, increasing awareness of such policies and adding funding to high-priority areas such as rural affordable housing. She emphasized a promise to reverse the Trump administration's weakening of anti-discrimination programs within her first 100 days in office.

Among the bullet points of Klobuchar's platforms are promises to help seniors age in place, boost investment in a housing voucher that would encourage renters to move to "high-opportunity neighborhoods" and encourage progressive zoning policies like the one her home state recently enacted, called Minneapolis 2040.

Beto O'Rourke

The former representative and city council member from El Paso, Texas, does not have a housing policy platform on his campaign website, but used a lengthy July interview with CNBC to open a window into his thinking on the topic.

Though he didn't actually set out any plans for the nation, O'Rourke recalled his time on the El Paso City Council instituting a plan to revitalize the city's downtown that included a provision preventing rents or mortgage payments from exceeding 30% of a resident's earnings.

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, speaking in Iowa as a Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential nomination.

Julian Castro

The former mayor of San Antonio and HUD secretary under President Barack Obama plans to prioritize the reform and expansion of the Housing Choice Voucher Program to cover every resident making 50% or less of their respective area median income. 

For those making between 50% and 100% of the AMI, Castro's platform includes a plan to create a tax credit that would reimburse rent or living expenses exceeding 30% of a resident's income. To create more affordable housing units, Castro seeks to invest $45B more per year into the Housing Trust Fund and $4B more per year into the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.

Castro's platform includes plans to create federal guidelines for local zoning policy, invest in various social programs that help prevent homelessness and address historic discrimination in housing policy.

Andrew Yang

The former dot-com and nonprofit founder had more named sections on his online campaign platform than any other candidate participating in the next Democratic debate, and a handful touch the world of commercial real estate. His plan to encourage denser zoning in urban areas includes a specific nod to co-living and micro-apartments as new forms of housing to encourage.

Yang decried the Amazon HQ2 bidding process, vowing to discourage the practice of massive economic incentive packages by taxing all relocation bonuses at 100%. His platform also calls for eliminating favorable treatment of capital gains and carried interest in the U.S. tax code.

Sen. Cory Booker

The former mayor of Newark (a city with strict rent control of its own) and co-sponsor of the bill that eventually created opportunity zones, Booker advocates for a tax credit to prevent rents from rising above 30% of a tenant's income.

He also hits the same marks as some of his fellow candidates: promising more investment into the Housing Trust Fund (in Booker's case, $40B), strengthening anti-discrimination policies, encouraging zoning reform through grants and capital assistance, and sweeping anti-homelessness initiatives.

What does set Booker's platform apart is the concept of "Baby Bonds," a program that would create a savings account seeded with $1K from the federal government that could grow by as much as $2K/year depending on family income.

An 18-year-old growing up in a low-income household could potentially have access to a $50K fund that could pay for a down payment on a house under Booker's plan. He claims that the bonds could be funded entirely by closing a loophole in the estate tax created in 2009.

Sen. Kamala Harris at a campaign stop in Iowa in August 2019.

Sen. Kamala Harris

The extent of housing policy in Harris' online campaign platform is a plan for addressing the racial homeownership gap, including a $100B investment in down payment assistance. Other elements of the plan include financial literacy programs and changes to mortgage lending standards.

Harris doesn't have any language in her platform addressing renters or other elements of commercial real estate, but in July she introduced a Senate bill that would increase eviction protections for former inmates and low-level criminal activity. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sponsored the bill in the House.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

The Hawaii congresswoman and active service member does not address housing or real estate in her online campaign platform, but has supported federal tax credit programs to build affordable housing during her time in the House.

Tom Steyer

The California billionaire hedge fund manager entered the campaign in July after years spent among the ranks of the Democrats' largest donors. His promise of spending $100M on his campaign has helped him meet the fundraising requirements to make it onto the debate stage.

Steyer's campaign platform, which focuses on protecting his "five rights" — the right to education, to an equal vote, to clean air and water, to a living wage and the right to health — does not address housing or real estate.