November 21, 2019

2020 Election Update: Welker Asks First Housing Policy Question of Debate Cycle

Last night, for the first time in this election cycle’s five national televised Democratic presidential debates, the moderators asked a question about affordable housing. Originally directed at Tom Steyer, NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker’s question generated a lot of interest among the candidates, and several raised their hands to ask for an opportunity to respond. Ultimately, three candidates had the opportunity to provide their input before the debate paused for a commercial break and the moderators moved on. The responses provided by Mr. Tom Steyer, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) discussed the scale of the problem as well as the urgent need for additional federal resources to address the nation’s housing affordability challenge. 

Steyer Cites the Need for Millions of Additional Units, Sustainable Building Practices

Steyer was the first to address the question, describing the stakes involved. He explained: “When you look at inequality in the United States of America, you have to start with housing. Where you put your head at night determines so many things about your life. It determines where your kids go to school. It determines the air you breathe, where you shop, how long it takes you to get to work.” Steyer also called for the production of “millions of new units” to increase the supply of affordable housing and emphasized the need “to build them in a way that's sustainable.” 

Warren Ties Housing to the Racial Wealth Gap

Senator Warren was eager to join the conversation. The Senator explained that “our housing problem in America is a problem on the supply side,” and called for the federal government to spur additional production of affordable housing. 

Turning to her plans, Senator Warren emphasized the historical precedent by which federal policy created inter-generational wealth for white households while locking out communities of color. She also explained how her plans focused on “addressing what is wrong about government-sponsored discrimination, how we need to address it, and [how] we're going to reverse it.”

Booker Reissues His Call to Expand Right to Counsel in Eviction Proceedings

Finally, Welker recognized Senator Booker, who called out gentrification and explained that his goal is to ensure that low-income families are not displaced from the communities that they have long called home. Touting his proposal of a Renter’s Tax Credit, Booker explained that the federal government needed to do more to lift low-income renters out of poverty.

As part of his plan to reduce displacement, Booker called for better access to legal representation for those facing eviction, particularly “low-income families struggling to stay in their homes.” 

Housing Positioned to Remain a Key Election Issue

Although time constraints meant that the discussion ended there for the time being, the issue continues to gain traction on the campaign trail and in coverage of the 2020 presidential election. In his opening statement, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) once again mentioned that more than 500,000 Americans are currently experiencing homelessness, and several other candidates have made housing a key theme of their campaigns by issuing housing policy platforms. It is important to remember that when families discuss pressing “kitchen table” issues, including affordable housing and cost burden, that kitchen table is in their home.     

For continuous coverage of housing in the 2020 presidential election, stay tuned to the Enterprise blog and sign up to receive our daily Today in Housing and biweekly Capitol Express newsletters.

All quotations in this blog are drawn from the NBC News transcript available here.

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