WASHINGTON — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is one of the most sought-after 2020 Democratic endorsements, presiding over the largest city in the most-populous state, which is positioned for major influence over the nomination now that its primary is on Super Tuesday.
So when presidential candidates come calling, he knows exactly what he wants from them.
“It’s definitely homelessness and housing,” Garcetti said. “The first person to jump on that will resonate in California.”
In Los Angeles and other major cities, rising housing costs and a lack of new low-income housing have contributed to a spike in homelessness.But it’s not only the poor who are feeling the pinch — or just California. Affordability concerns are filtering upward to middle class and even relatively affluent families, who complain they’re being shut out of job-rich metropolitan areas.
“With any kind of major issue in our country, it’s when it hits the middle class that policymakers start paying attention,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told NBC News. “That’s certainly the case now.”
The 2020 field has taken notice. Top-tier contenders, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, have released detailed plans promising to provide new aid to renters and encourage more housing development.
The issue still hasn’t quite had its breakout moment nationally; it came up only in passing during the first two Democratic debates. But with a rise in activism already pushing candidates to get ahead of the issue, its time in the spotlight seems inevitable.
The rise of renters
The last time housing emerged as a major campaign issue was during the real estate crash of 2008.Property values have rebounded, but many Americans still can’t buy a home, leaving a bulge of cash-strapped renters whom Democrats see as a potential constituency.
“In a lot of parts in this country, the recession unhinged people’s personal economic reality, but the price of housing kept going up anyway,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, another 2020 candidate who’s working on a national plan to boost federal investment in housing, told NBC News.
The number of Americans renting a home — nearly 37 percent — reached a 50-year high in 2016, and nearly half of renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The percentage of cost-burdened renters has improved slightly since the recession, but it’s nearly 10 points higherthan it was in 2000, and it’s worse in many large cities.
Other 2020 contenders, like Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have also called for expanding Section 8 housing vouchers, adding new tenant protections, and funding assistance to families at risk of homelessness.
Some of the plans call for boosting federal tax credits and grant programs to help repair and build developments earmarked for low-income residents. Warren’s plan would commit $500 billion to these projects and sets a goal of building 3.2 million housing units.
Data for Progress, a liberal think tank and advocacy group, has been tracking 2020 candidates’ positions on affordable housing and publishing polling to try to convince Democrats that major investments in housing is a winning issue.
“There is some realpolitik to wanting to speak to the needs of renters,” said Henry Kraemer, who researches housing for the group. “Democrats are just much, much, much more likely to be renters than Republicans.”
But some worry that while middle-class struggles have helped to draw attention to housing issues, some of the poorest residents might be left behind in the policy conversation.
In New York City, Council Member Ritchie Torres is running for retiring Rep. José Serrano’s congressional seat on an affordable housing platform after shining a spotlight on unsafe conditions in public housing.
Torres says he’s concerned the city’s 400,000 public housing residents — the largest concentration in the country — are being left out of the discussion despite official estimates that their homes require $32 billion in maintenance. While Warren’s plan includes some money for public housing repairs and Sanders has talked about the need for more funding, the candidate proposals mostly focus on alternative housing approaches.
“Poor people of color in public housing are fundamentally forgotten by the presidential candidates,” Torres told NBC News.
The YIMBY movement
Aid to renters could help them pay the bills, but experts have warned the added cash could prompt landlords to raise rents, especially if the housing supply remains the same.
Such proposals also wouldn’t directly address complaints from upwardly mobile workers who would make too much to qualify for aid, but are still struggling to find an affordable home in areas with high costs of living. Median home values were more than $1 million in almost 200 cities last year, and the number of metros expected to hit that mark is growing, according to an analysis by the real estate website Zillow.
This supply crunch is a focus of the fast-growing activist movement known as “YIMBY,” or “yes in my backyard.” Activists seek to relax zoning laws to encourage more construction, describing themselves as a rejoinder to the “not in my backyard” concerns that communities often raise about proposed developments.
“If there’s one major theme to YIMBY-ism across the country, it’s that we’re trying to legalize apartment buildings,” Matthew Lewis, communications director for California YIMBY, told NBC News. “The way we talk about it is that there’s plenty of room in our neighborhood for more neighbors.”
In line with these concerns, several 2020 candidates are looking to prod local and state governments to rezone their communities to make it easier to build cheaper multifamily housing.
Warren’s plan includes a new $10 billion grant program that local governments would compete to use, but only if they reformed their zoning and construction rules. Booker and Castro would tie existing block grants to reform requirements, and Klobuchar’s plan would seek to spur similar changes. Harris’ plan does not address zoning.
The politics of the issue don’t cut neatly along traditional party lines. Many of the biggest YIMBY fronts are in blue states and blue cities along with purple-trending suburbs that were key to Democratic victories in 2018. If the housing issue comes to a head nationally, it could pit different parts of the Democratic coalition against one another.
“There’s sort of a clash between younger renters who feel the system doesn’t work and older homeowners who have profited very well,” Jenny Schuetz, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, told NBC News.
In California, housing advocates rallied around SB 50, a bill that would rezone areas near mass transit and businesses to make it easier to build larger developments. The measure saw a high-profile campaign by supportive lawmakers and advocates, who warned of an estimated shortfall of 3.5 million homes statewide. But the Democratic Legislature has set the legislation aside for now amid pushback from critics, who complain it would pre-empt local control and change the look and feel of neighborhoods.
A legacy of discrimination
Housing debates can get ugly, especially when confronting divides over race and segregation.
Efforts to build affordable housing sometimes prompt public complaints that lower-income residents will drag down property values or make schools less competitive, which in turn spur accusations that residents are using euphemisms to keep out minorities. In many cases, neighborhoods were originally zoned with that exact purpose in mind.
But the accusations fly both ways, with some activists in minority communities worried that opening up more development in their neighborhoods will usher in gentrification that leaves them priced out. Rick Hall, president of the anti-SB 50 coalition Livable California, told NBC News that these concerns cut against the caricature of opponents of the bill as wealthy elitists in walled-off enclaves.
“We get a lot of bad press about being white suburbanites, but I’m an anti-gentrification activist who lives in an urban San Francisco area,” Hall said.
Some of the 2020 candidates have put out plans to address housing discrimination by trying to provide additional help to neighborhoods starved of resources by racist “redlining” policies that excluded minorities from housing benefits.
Warren’s plan would help fund down payments for low-income residents in once-redlined neighborhoods. Harris, meanwhile, put out a $100 billion proposal last month to boost black homeownership in similarly affected communities, offering up to $25,000 in aid to as many as 4 million qualifying buyers. More recently, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a plan to buy abandoned homes in redlined communities and transfer them to locals to rehabilitate.
But some liberal activists, while glad to see candidates’s various proposals, are worried that the housing movement still needs one catchy “big idea” it can unite behind and demand politicians adopt.
“What we’ve learned from health care and the ‘Green New Deal’ is we have to articulate a demand that sounds crazy right now, but helps us to awaken that political imagination,” Tara Raghuveer, housing campaign director for the community organizing group People’s Action, said.
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Elizabeth Warren edges out Joe Biden in Des Moines Register Iowa poll
The poll out Saturday night found Warren was the top choice for the Democratic nomination with 22 percent support among likely caucus-goers, while Biden had the support of 20 percent of respondents. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fell to third with 11 percent.
The poll was conducted of 602 likely Democratic caucus-goers from Sept. 14-18. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The last Register/CNN poll, in June, had Biden leading with 24 percent and Warren in the third spot at 15 percent, slightly behind Bernie Sanders, who came in second with 16 percent support.
While there have been several other recent polls of the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state, the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, conducted by Des Moines-based pollster Ann Selzer, is widely considered to be the most accurate, so its Saturday night releases have become must-watch events for Iowa politicos.
The poll was released after the entire 2020 Democratic presidential field gathered in Des Moines Saturday for the annual Steak Fry, a fundraising event hosted by the local Democratic Party club.
Warren surged 7 points in the poll since the June survey, while Biden lost a bit of ground, putting them neck-and-neck inside the poll’s margin of error.
Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, both slipped significantly, down 5 and 6 percentage points, respectively, leaving Buttigieg at 9 percent, down from 15.
The rest of the field, meanwhile, is mired in the single digits.
California Sen. Kamala Harris held steady at 6 percent, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker gained a couple of points to land at 3 percent, while coming at 2 percent were Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, billionaire Tom Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Everyone else was at 1 percent or below.
Still, just one-in-five likely Democratic caucus-goers said they had already made up their minds so the race remains fluid. Almost two-thirds said they were open to being convinced to support someone else.
“The data in this poll seem to suggest the field is narrowing, but my sense is there’s still opportunity aplenty,” Selzer told the Register. “The leaders aren’t all that strong. The universe is not locked in.”
But the data is unquestionably good news for Warren, who is now both the best-liked candidate in the field (75 percent view her favorably) and the candidate being considered by the most likely caucus-goers (71 percent).
Voters go ‘center-left’ on issues, but not on candidates
WASHINGTON – When it comes to issues and issue agendas, there is good news and bad news for Democrats in 2020 in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
On the good news side of the ledger, there some key issues where voters seem supportive of left-leaning ideas and approaches. The bad news, a leftward-lean does not mean a leftward rush. If Democratic candidates push too hard in the primaries they may find themselves with problems in the general election.
The issue agreements and differences with registered voters and Democratic primary voters are eye-opening and, in some cases, surprising.
One number that jumps out of the data, 58 percent of registered voters in the survey say they support “providing free tuition at state colleges and universities.” That’s lower than the 81 percent of Democratic primary voters who support the idea and there’s a lot of wiggle room in how respondents may have interpreted the question (would it be means-tested?), but it’s still a majority.
And there are a series of issues like that one, where Democrats seem to have registered voters in their corner on topics ranging from immigration and student debt to health care and the environment.
For instance, 67 percent of registered voters and 89 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor allowing young adults who were brought illegally to this country to stay here to attend college. On student debt, 64 percent of registered voters and 82 percent of Democratic primary voters favor forgiving student loans after someone has paid 12.5 percent of their income every year for 15 years.
The two groups are also in agreement on offering a health insurance “public option” for people younger than 65 who want to buy into it, 67 percent and 78 percent favor that idea respectively. And both registered voters and Democratic primary voters favor “shifting the country to 100 percent renewable energy and stopping the use of coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power by the year 2030” – 52 percent and 81 percent support that idea.
Those are numbers that should bring smiles to the faces of Democrats. They show a lot of broad support on some major issues that Democrats say they favor and seem to suggest Democrats are in a good spot to win voters in 2020.
For the record, the data also show that both registered voters and Democratic primary voters oppose building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and oppose eliminating the Affordable Care Act.
But there is another set of numbers in the poll that show the challenges Democrats could face on these same issues if their nominee heads down a path that goes a little further to the left.
On immigration, 64 percent of Democratic primary voters want to give undocumented immigrants government health care, only 36 percent of registered voters want that. When it comes to student debt, 60 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor immediately canceling and forgiving all current student loan debt, but only 41 percent of registered voters support that idea.
A solid 63 percent of Democratic primary voters back a “Medicare for all” single-payer health care system “in which private health insurance would be eliminated” – only 41 percent of registered voters agree. And while 58 percent of Democratic primary voters support an end to the practice of “fracking” for oil and gas production, only 41 percent of registered voters feel the same way.
Those are some wide gaps and the splits show that winning general election support is not just about talking about the right issues (clean energy, fixing student debt), it’s about talking about them in the right way.
The registered voter answers on these questions suggest that the U.S. electorate become a center-left entity in the last few elections, one that is embracing more liberal action on issues such as climate change, health care and college costs.
But these numbers also suggest that the “center-left” is not the “left” and that’s where many Democratic primary voters reside.
The next six to eight months will determine where the Democratic nominee eventually ends up on these issues. And if the party’s nominee moves too far too fast to placate primary voters, he or she may end up standing on uncomfortable ground next November.
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