Democratic debates: Housing must be addressed

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Tents belonging to homeless people are seen by new highrise developments alongside a freway ramp in Los Angeles.
Democratic debates Housing must be addressed


As last week’s climate town hall began, it was immediately clear that the candidates had done their homework.

All 10 front-running presidential candidates were well-prepared on climate issues, and could talk eloquently, and sometimes passionately, about how the U.S. will wean itself off fossil fuels. Candidates spoke about the country’s swift transition to wind and community solar, the U.S.’s incredibly carbon-intensive built environment, and yes, they even talked about transportation, albeit the discussion was mostly about electric cars.

Now the candidates need to do the same for the U.S.’s affordable housing crisis.

Tonight’s debate is the third televised event where Democratic candidates will face off and the first to put all the top-polling candidates on stage together.

While several of those candidates have housing plans—and speak often about housing affordability on the campaign trail—no housing questions were asked at the first or second debates.

Advocates have been working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

On September 5, a coalition of 600 organizations known as Our Homes Our Votes 2020 sent a letter to the debate’s moderators asking them to address the nation’s affordable housing crisis. Not only is the high cost of housing an issue that affects virtually every American, the letter argues, most voters want to hear about federal solutions, according to a recent national public opinion poll:

Eighty-three percent say elected officials are not paying enough attention to the cost of housing and the need for more affordable housing. Nearly 8 in 10 people in America say the president should “take major action” to make housing more affordable for low-income families. And 91 percent of Democratic voters say they are more likely to vote for candidates who have detailed plans for making housing more affordable.

Yesterday, the coalition hosted a conversation on Twitter, tagging tonight’s moderators with suggested housing questions. Just in the last few weeks, housing issues have gained major traction on the national stage, giving moderators plenty to ask about.

On Monday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced she and other legislators are teaming up with the Center for Popular Democracy on a federal policy platform called A Home To Thrive, which would protect low-income renters and public housing residents. Last week, the nonprofit People’s Action introduced the Homes Guarantee policy plan, with a goal to build 12 million social housing units over 10 years and introduce national tenant protections, among other efforts.


Cities like Los Angeles have seen their numbers of homelessness residents skyrocket in recent years.
Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Moderators could also ask about this week’s housing news. In California, a statewide rent control bill just passed, mirroring recent efforts in Oregon and New York, which could serve as a national model. And White House officials recently visited Los Angeles for a first-hand look at the city’s growing homelessness crisis—although afterwards, federal officials revealed their intentions to raze encampments and relocate homeless residents. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to propose funding cuts for critical housing programs.

Tonight’s debate will be held in Houston, which also offers an excellent opportunity to talk about housing. The city is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, and as more devastating hurricanes and wildfires beset the country, the lowest-income Americans will face some of the most difficult decisions about whether to rebuild, or abandon, their communities.

In the same way that the climate town hall’s in-depth, one-on-one conversations revealed the nuance in candidates’ policies, it may take similar engagement before a national audience to reveal the candidates’s grasp on complicated, often-contentious housing policy.

“While candidates can and should have a robust debate about solutions, it is critical that they demonstrate a solid understanding of how housing markets work,” writes Jenny Schuetz, a housing and urban policy expert at Brookings, in a blog post this week. “At this stage in the campaign, details of the candidates’ housing proposals are less important than whether they are correctly identifying critical problems and the underlying causes.”

Nearly all the credit for last week’s climate town hall is due to the Sunrise Movement, tenacious group of advocates who pressed candidates to strengthen their plans, held protests outside Democratic National Committee offices, organized a youth climate strike, and are orchestrating another global climate strike starting September 20 in Washington D.C. and dozens of other cities (and, yes, they are still demanding a dedicated climate-focused debate).

But the climate town hall didn’t just give us seven hours of conversation on climate crisis. We now have 10 presidential candidates with 10 detailed climate plans—10 different proposals for getting the country to a zero-emission future.

A future where every American has access to a stable, affordable home is the goal of #OurHomesOurVotes2020—and asking direct housing questions at tonight’s debate (and maybe a separate housing-focused forum after that) can ensure that every candidate has a plan for that future.

The debate airs tonight, Thursday, September 12, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. Here’s how to watch, and be sure to follow the debates live with Curbed’s reporters.





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