Why Aren't Hillary and Bernie Talking More About Rising Rents and Affordable Housing?

Why Aren't Hillary and Bernie Talking More About Rising Rents and Affordable Housing?
Photo by Phillip Pessar, Candidate Photos via WikiCommons

Tune into any of the Democratic debates and you'll hear a lot about income inequality but very little about the issue that is (depending upon the economist you talk to) one of the driving factors behind today's major symptoms of inequality: rising rents, lack of affordable housing, and the fact that home ownership is now at its lowest point in decades. 

Peruse the transcripts from the last debate in Milwaukee: Hillary Clinton talked a lot about how she'd like to discuss housing but never actually got around to it. Bernie Sanders said nothing. Ditto for this week's CNN town hall. 

Yet round up any random group of Miamians who are struggling or feeling financially stressed, and one of the first issues to come up would likely be rent. As study after study after analysis after factoid after ranking tells us, out-of-control rent is a major issue in Miami, and though it's particularly pronounced here, it's a problem in most major cities in the country as well. 

Sure, a president will never have as much of a direct impact on local housing and development issues as a local government (hint, hint — we'll also elect a new county mayor this year), but the notion that housing should be a concern to the national government is a legacy of the Democratic Party.

The United States Housing Authority was a major component of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, while the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development was a key component of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society Program. 

So it stands to reason that a Democratic presidential candidate should have a detailed housing platform from the get-go, especially in this election cycle. But neither Hillary nor Bernie has one. 

First, let's look at where each candidate stands on the issue: 

Hillary ClintonEXPAND
Hillary Clinton
Courtesy of U.S. Department of State

Hillary Clinton 
Housing hasn't actually made it to Clinton's official "Issues" page, but she did announce major housing policy proposals this week in her new "Breaking Every Barrier" agenda. Here's the summary of Clinton's proposals. More details can be found here

  • Support families as they save for sustainable homeownership. Clinton will support initiatives to match up to $10,000 in savings for a down payment for those who earn less than area median income. She will also reduce barriers to lending in underserved communities, support housing counseling programs, and police abuse and discrimination in the mortgage market.
  • Build more affordable rental housing near good jobs and good schools. Clinton will increase support for affordable rental housing in the areas that need it most and encourage communities to implement land use strategies that make it easier to build affordable rental housing near good jobs.
  • Overcome pockets of distress. Clinton will provide the resources necessary to overcome blight, giving communities a chance to rebuild and renew with new businesses, new homeowners, and new hope. And she will connect housing support in high-poverty neighborhoods to economic opportunity.

Why Aren't Hillary and Bernie Talking More About Rising Rents and Affordable Housing?
Photo via Bernie Sanders' Campaign

Bernie Sanders
Housing is missing from Sander's "Issues" page as well, and the campaign hasn't released any concrete proposals about housing and urban development policy. Sanders, however, does have a record:

  • Though it wasn't his idea, Sanders eventually helped pave the way for the establishment of a unique community land trust as mayor of Burlington, Vermont
  • As mayor, Sanders also created the Community and Economic Development Office to champion affordable housing and fight developers who wanted to build things such as luxury condos. 
  • Sanders has also supported numerous affordable housing efforts in the House and Senate. (For what it's worth, Clinton also cosponsored an affordable housing bill in the Senate.) 

So what you have is one candidate, who, ten months into her campaign, finally announced some concrete housing policy, and another who, despite a solid record on the issue, hasn't made it much of a focus yet. 

Yet this is a primary that's found itself centered on helping the middle class and reducing income inequality, in a year when the latest trendy economic inequality theory is that it's actually caused by growing disparity in the housing market, yet somehow that's not a central issue. 

Developers are part of the 1 percent too, you know. It's not all Wall Street traders. In fact, it's a developer of high-priced luxury real estate who's leading the race on the Republican side. 

Now, I know I've opened myself up here to emails from supporters of both candidates claiming, "Well, if you look back to what my candidate said in 1992..." or "If you think about it like this, the policies would have an effect on housing even if housing isn't specifically mentioned..." 

That's not the point. 

The point is that rising rents, lower home ownership, gentrification, and a lack of affordable housing is a growing problem. Both candidates need to get better at specifically addressing it and discussing it instead of leaving voters picking at breadcrumbs trying to decipher what it is these candidates will actually do if elected. 

The Florida primary is less than a month away, and this is a huge issue in South Florida, the largest source of Democratic voters in the state. It's high time for both campaigns to get serious about the issue and make action a priority if they get to the White House. 

After all, housing is a more basic need than health care and education. 


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