This week, presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders debuted a far-reaching housing policy plan that, if enacted, would take aim at developers, put the housing affordability of millions of hardworking Americans at risk and exacerbate the very problem he is seeking to fix.
Here are the broad strokes of Sanders’ $2.5 trillion “Housing for All” plan:
- Enact national rent control, capping rent increases at 3% or 1.5x the Consumer Price Index (whichever is higher), regardless of tenant income level
- Create a new rent control and tenant protection office within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- End preemption, allowing states and cities to pass rent control standards
- Invest $1.48 trillion in the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund to build 7.4 million affordable housing units nationwide
- Require national zoning standards
- Invest $32 billion to eradicate homelessness
And there’s even more in this ambitious proposal that seeks to cure our national housing woes through heavy federal regulation and an astounding injection of taxpayer dollars. The senator has put his marker in the ground on an issue that’s critical to every American community, but more policymakers are proposing new ideas in an emerging national conversation about how to confront this very real crisis.
Presidential candidates are increasingly talking about housing on the campaign trail, and some of what they’re saying is worthy of consideration. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Cory Booker both advocate for softening prohibitive zoning rules to make construction easier. Booker and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro want to expand tax credits for low- and middle-income Americans who spend more than 30% of their income on rent. And all three believe in using federal dollars in different ways to incentivize construction on the local level. Of course, there are things to grapple with in each candidate’s proposal, but there’s enough common ground on core solutions to be optimistic.
Unfortunately, others are taking an approach similar to Sanders. States such as California and New York have misguidedly pursued Sanders-like policies that will push us further away from solving the problem. The American housing affordability crisis requires serious solutions that incentivize and prioritize the construction of new units across a variety of price points. Senator Sanders and his pro-rent control compatriots are taking a hard line on this issue that will only make the problems we need to solve together worse.
Housing is likely to become a major theme in the 2020 presidential election moving forward. It’s important that NMHC, our members and our allies in communities throughout the nation counteract these radical and harmful proposals. We must show our commitment to commonsense solutions we know will work to deliver what Americans deserve – peace of mind that they can afford to put a roof over their family’s heads.
The simple truth is that federal mandates and one-size-fits-all policies will inflame the affordability crisis, driving prices up on Americans and squeezing people out of the housing market. Decisions affecting something as integral to communities as housing are best made at the state and local level. What’s good for San Francisco might not work for Sarasota, and these Washington-centric plans ignore that reality. In some places, supply is failing to keep up with demand. In others, restrictive zoning is chilling investment in exactly the type of housing construction that could give renters much-needed relief. Different challenges require diverse solutions with community buy-in; the Sanders plan fails to reflect that.
Sanders’ proposal puts politics over people. But NMHC and our members won’t ignore the fact that national rent control would freeze investment nationwide and eliminate property owners’ ability to recoup costs and reinvest in maintenance and upgrades. We won’t shy away from saying that such policies would further stretch the imbalance between supply and demand and cause the housing we already have to fall into disrepair. And we won’t let the fact that such policies will actually increase housing costs fall by the wayside. It’s our responsibility to engage in this national debate, not just to say what we’re against, but to passionately advocate for better policies that increase the supply of housing and improve the lives of countless American families.
NMHC is on the frontlines fighting for sound housing policies every day, and we need each of you to join us by engaging in the debate in your states and hometowns. Resources are available to all of you to make a difference and stop the spread of tragically counterproductive policies that are in vogue in our current political moment. The fate of our industry depends on it, but more importantly, the fate of so many hardworking American families hangs in the balance.
Thank you for all the amazing work you do every day to make your communities better places to live. We look forward to making the case with you everywhere for commonsense housing policies that genuinely work. Learn more or find resources at www.nmhc.org/rentcontrol or www.growinghomestogether.org.
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