Want Our Vote, Talk to Me about Tenants

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans        It’s a crowded field for the Democratic nomination for president this time around, but some of the candidates are wising up a bit and realizing that, if you want to win and push new and different voters to the polls, you better have a real plan for renters and affordable housing, not just more hollow platitudes about homeownership and white picket fences.  It even seems more urgent when the business pages of the Wall Street Journal start to write warnings for their readers that rent control is gaining traction.

On the rent control front, the passage of some limits, even very high ones in Oregon statewide, has sent tremors throughout the industry.  New York is also weighting a cap on rents now with a firmer Democratic legislative majority.  A bill that would allow local communities to enact rent controls in Colorado is moving forward.  Real estate interests won’t be able to hold back change in California forever.  I wouldn’t call it a movement yet, but if businessmen and real-estate investment trusts, are worried, I’m already happier about the prospects.

Some of the candidates are advancing proposals that speak to tenants and affordable housing, so let’s give some props to the ones that are standing up, even if some of are not yet measuring up.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and her campaign have focused on policy prescriptions, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that she leads in this area.  She introduced a bill, also sponsored by another candidate, Senator Kristen Gillibrand from New York, that would raise the estate tax to push money to nonprofit housing developers and raise about $50 billion.  The New York Times quotes a Moody’s analysis that claims such an infusion of new units would lower rents for a decade.  Warren’s bill would also provide more assistance to homeowners willing to buy in areas that were traditionally red-lined.

Warren and Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey advocate changing zoning laws to allow more density, though I’m pretty sure that’s a local issue.  To get around local real estate and developer cartels, Warren wants to increase the pot of Community Development Block Grant monies to force the issue.  Booker wants to deny CDBG money to communities that don’t change.

I’m disappointed that California’s Senator Kamala Harris, who I find has a lot of appeal, has placed such a small marker on such a huge issue.  She advocates, along with Booker, a tax credit for renters, but, frankly, that just doesn’t get it for lower income renters or for a bigger supply of affordable units.

It’s early in the game, so all of these candidates can improve their stakes in this issue and others may come forward strong as well, but believe me it’s going to be a litmus test that any winner will have to pass.  The past is a prologue for the future when it comes to voters that will matter.  As the Times notes,

Renters heavily overlap with key Democratic constituencies, including younger adults, African-Americans and Hispanics, and urban residents. Voter turnout of renters in 2016 was about 12 percentage points lower than that of homeowners, according to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. But that year they favored Hillary Clinton by 28 points (homeowners preferred Donald J. Trump by 11 points).

If you want tenants, you’re going to have to put some serious stuff on the table.  Elizabeth Warren seems to get that.  The rest of the field needs to bring their A-game on these issues.