Over 500,000 people are homeless in the U.S., nearly half of the country’s renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and homeownership is becoming increasingly out of reach for many Americans. While most Democratic candidates have collectively acknowledged the urgency of these problems with a wide range of housing plans, there’s one candidate who has yet to release a housing platform—the frontrunner.
In national polls, former vice president Joe Biden has been in the lead for virtually the entirety of the Democratic primary, and his candidacy is perceived to be such a threat to President Donald Trump that Trump’s effort to embroil Biden in scandal has led to his own impeachment.
But with the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination hasn’t formally acknowledged the growing problem of housing affordability that impacts most Americans—aside from the very wealthy.
Having safe, stable, affordable housing is a necessity, not a luxury. It allows for healthier, more productive lives. The fact that this necessity is becoming increasingly harder to obtain and hold onto has made housing a national election issue for the first time in decades.
The crisis has prompted Democratic presidential candidates to release comprehensive housing plans, most of which include massive new investments in affordable housing production. Housing shortages and construction costs have pushed housing costs to or near all-time highs in every major city in the country, and public housing has been in decline for decades.
Most Democratic candidates have proposed making new investments in the National Housing Trust Fund, which is used to build and rehabilitate affordable housing. Allocations to the fund totaled $267 million in 2018, and candidates have proposed increasing funding by varying amounts, from $40 billion per year to $188 billion.
Of all the candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed the biggest investments in public housing. His Green New Deal for Public Housing Act would invest $172 billion into retrofitting public housing projects into carbon neutral, energy efficient developments, in addition to providing workforce training and other opportunities to residents.
But it’s not just the left flank of the party proposing big investments. Some Democratic candidates have proposed increased funding to Section 8 housing vouchers, which subsidize rent for low-income households. Only about a quarter of those who qualify for a housing vouchers—which subsidize the recipient’s rent—receive one.
Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigeig and Sen. Amy Klobuchar—two moderate Democrats—have proposed funding vouchers as an entitlement, instead of through the current system of Congressional appropriations. Sanders has proposed the same.
Most Democratic candidates have also taken aim at local zoning laws by suggesting that a municipality’s eligibility for federal grant programs be tied to reform of local zoning laws to include higher density developments.
Where does Joe Biden stand on these proposals? Without a housing plan it’s hard to know how seriously he’s taking the issue. But his record as a moderate Democrat suggests he would likely fall closer to Buttigeig and Klobuchar’s proposals than the proposals of Sanders.
In 1998, Biden voted in favor of the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act, which allowed for a reduction in the country’s public housing stock, so if his position on that law holds, he’s likely not in favor of huge investments in public housing.
As vice president, Biden was also part of the Obama administration effort to enact anti-segregation and anti-discrimination regulations. Those regulations are now under attack from the Trump administration—but voters aren’t hearing Biden defend them publicly.
Would a Biden presidency reaffirm those fair housing policies? Would he allocate more funding to build more affordable housing? It’s time for his campaign to reveal how he would address a crisis that’s affecting virtually every American voter.