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.
Democratic Sen. Coons says he’s ‘gravely’ concerned about Trump’s actions if acquitted by Senate
“The only reason that Speaker Pelosi changed her position and supported moving ahead with an impeachment inquiry was because what Donald Trump is alleged to have done, and all evidence points to him having done it, which is to invite foreign interference in our next election,” Coons said during an exclusive interview on “Meet the Press.”
“If he is ultimately exonerated in the Senate, if the Senate Republican majority refuses to discipline him through impeachment he will be unbounded,” the Delaware senator continued. “And I am gravely concerned about what else he might do between now and the 2020 election — when there are no restrictions on his behavior.”
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The House Judiciary Committee on Friday approved two articles of impeachment against Trump in a party-line vote. The articles allege that Trump abused his power with an attempt to pressure Ukraine to open an investigation into a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and that he obstructed Congress’ investigation into those allegations.
The full House is expected to vote on them this week. If those articles pass, as expected, it will be up to the Senate to hold a trial and ultimately vote on whether to remove Trump from office, which would require support from two-thirds of the GOP-controlled Senate.
Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to work with Democrats to make sure the allegations get a fair shake in the House.
“The American people deserve the truth, not political theater,” he said.
Also appearing on “Meet the Press,” Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said that McConnell has to be sure the president receives a fair trial.
But he said that the Senate should be deliberative about hearing the allegations against Trump. “It’s appropriate to make sure the president gets a fair trial here, that’s the idea. I think it would be extremely inappropriate to put a bullet in this thing immediately when it comes over,” he said.
“I think we ought to hear what the House impeachment managers have to say, give the president’s attorneys an opportunity to make a defense, and then make a decision about whether and to what extent we come forward from there.”
Toomey noted there “might be a lot of agreement on the facts” between Republicans and Democrats on the matter, but added there is “a big disagreement about what rises to the level of impeachment.”
BBC BIAS: Tories pull ministers from Radio 4 Today as new row explodes
I ‘hope to hell’ I’d impeach Obama if he did the same as Trump
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday that if former President Barack Obama had committed the same alleged offense that led the House Judiciary Committee to approve articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Schiff would support impeaching him as well.
Schiff made the comments in an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” in which he lamented the staunch support for Trump among congressional Republicans in the face of the impeachment investigation.
“What has really changed between now and Watergate isn’t the nature of the president’s conduct, if anything, this president’s conduct is far worse than anything Nixon did, far more sweeping in its obstruction of accountability, far more damaging to our national security than the cover-up that was Watergate,” Schiff said. “The question is, why are Republicans placing this president above their oath of office?”
“I don’t think any of us have any question that had Barack Obama engaged in the activity, the conduct which is the subject these articles of impeachment, every one of these Republicans would be voting to impeach him,” he continued. “And you know something, I have to hope to hell, George, if it were Barack Obama, I would vote to impeach him.”
On Friday, the Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against the president in a party-line vote. The articles assert the president abused his power by leveraging his office to have Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, and Democrats, and that he obstructed Congress by refusing to comply with their constitutionally mandated oversight as they investigated Trump’s efforts.
The articles are expected to be approved by the full House on Wednesday. Trump would then face a Senate trial. Already, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has signaled that the trial will not lead to Trump’s conviction, which would require 67 votes.
“This is, I think, the crux of the matter, which is something the framers were also deeply concerned about, and that is an excess of what they would call factionalism, but we would call extreme partisanship where it is more important to one party that the president of their party remain in office than what he does to the country, and that I think puts us deeply at risk,” Schiff said.
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