The president has emphasized protecting suburbs from low-income intrusion. The Democratic nominee wants to spend billions to ease the housing crunch.


Adi Talwar

A home for sale on Sacket Avenue in the Morris Park neighborhood of the Bronx. The presidential candidates have vastly different views of what is needed to increase homeownership opportunities.

So far during debate season, the only sentence related to housing issues was uttered last Wednesday night during the vice presidential forum by Democratic vice president contender Senator Kamala Harris.

The 2020 presidential campaigns have largely focused on the crisis surrounding the novel Coronavirus pandemic and its staggering toll of over 210,000 American lives lost across the nation. But that health and jobs crisis could turn into a housing crisis soon. National housing advocacy groups forecast a major eviction and homelessness crisis ahead due to the unemployment rate and millions of dollars in unpaid rent debt. Harris hinted at that looming problem.

“I think about 20-year-olds—we have a 20-something-year-old—who are coming out of high school and college right now. And you’re wondering, ‘Is there going to be a job there for me?’ We’re looking at people who are trying to figure out how they’re going to pay rent by the end of the month. Almost half of American renters are worried about whether they’re going to be able to pay rent by the end of the month,” Harris said in her debate with Vice President Mike Pence. “This is where the economy is in America right now. And it is because of the catastrophe and the failure of leadership of this administration.”

Harris was close, but housing and tenant advocacy groups paint a much grimmer picture.

Huge debt load and thousands of possible evictions

Whether voters choose a Trump administration or a Biden administration, the next president of the United States could face a daunting 30 to 40 million households at risk for evictions, according to a report published in August.

Another analysis published in September based largely on the Household Pulse Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau estimated “renter households have already accumulated between $12.2 billion and $16.7 billion” of rent debt and by January 2021, that burden could increase to between $25.1 billion and $34.3 billion. The analysis also projected that low-income households with annual incomes less than $50,000 would make up 71 percent of the estimated eviction filings by January 2021.

The report estimates New York State could see between 800,000 to 1,230,000 million tenant households unable to pay rent and at risk for eviction, 730,000 eviction filings and between $2.5 to $3.4 billion in rent debt by the start of the next administration.

Housing advocacy groups say Congress and the White House should act now to take preventive measures such as extending the time period of the universal eviction moratorium, which ends on December 31, and allocating $100 billion in rental financial assistance for middle- to low-income households to address the looming housing crisis.

Aside from Harris’s one line, three hours of national debates have yet to address the looming housing crisis despite the outcry by housing and tenant advocates across the country.

“Americans deserve to know how the candidates plan to address housing instability,” said Jolie Milstein, president and CEO New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), in an email statement. “The absence of any real discussion about housing affordability and homelessness has been wholly disappointing.”

“The existing housing crisis has been exacerbated by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and families need stable housing more than ever,” she continued. “We urge the candidates to promote a housing platform that includes not only rent and mortgage relief, but commits to robust funding programs that spur affordable housing development and preservation nationwide.”

The president’s plan

Trump, a former New York resident, was known for his flamboyant lifestyle and career in the New York real-estate industry before he entered entertainment and later government. He was born into the business: Trump’s father Fred Trump made real-estate investments in Queens and Brooklyn. Federal authorities in 1973 alleged that the patriarch violated the Fair Housing Act by having property managers turn away Black would-be tenants while using HUD financing for its investments, according to federal court records. The Trump family denied the allegations, but agreed to a consent decree.

During his presidency, Trump has made some controversial moves on housing like the housing finance reform plan introduced in 2019 and the repeal of an Obama-era Fair Housing rule made earlier this year in July.

In Trump’s housing finance reform proposal, the White House seeks to restructure and release Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from federal government conservatorship, which occurred after the 2008 Great Recession. The administration also outlined plans to redesign the country’s affordable housing goals, giving a framework but with little detail.

The housing advocacy group National Low-Income Housing Coalition said in a press statement the new reform plan would “eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s affordable housing goals, reduce access to credit for historically underserved borrowers, and neglect to increase funding for the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF).” The overall HUD budget would be cut by over $8 billion.

The White House says the goal of its housing reform proposal is to also protect the availability of 30-year mortgages and support affordable housing but housing advocates like the National Housing Conference have argued the plan would require a fee paid to the Deparment of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in order to create affordable housing if Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are eliminated. Those fees would go back to HUD’s budget rather than to a program to assist low-income households.

The plan also calls on opening up a path for the private sector to invest in affordable housing development and eliminating the cap on housing units that can be converted under the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD). The current statutory cap on RAD is 455,000 units. RAD, an Obama-era program, allows the transfer of public housing units to Section 8, the federal housing voucher program, which gives operators an opportunity to take advantage of federal subsidies.

In July, HUD announced, the federal housing agency would “ultimately terminate the Obama Administration’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation issued in 2015, which proved to be complicated, costly, and ineffective.” Obama’s 2015 AFFH rule created a framework to overcome systemic segregation, promote fair housing choice and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination. The rule provided an assessment tool for city and state governments and public housing agencies which included data, instructions and a series of questions to identify patterns of segregation, disparities, among other fair housing issues in communities.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a July press statement that the removal of the AFFH rules would remove the “burden on communities by suspending the regulation’s 92-question grading tool.” The Trump administration has argued the 2015 AFFH rule forced local governments and public housing agencies to meet standards which were stringent and time-consuming and not required under the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Instead, the Trump administration introduced their own rule, Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice, which defines fair housing generally “to mean housing that, among other attributes, is affordable, safe, decent, free of unlawful discrimination, and accessible under civil rights laws.” It then defines “affirmatively furthering fair housing” to mean any action rationally related to promoting any of the above attributes of fair housing,” so the federal government does not dictate local zoning and planning laws and become an impediment from getting federal funding to create low-income housing, the Trump administration has argued.

In March, Fair Housing Justice Center executive director Fred Freiberg testified in Washington D.C against the termination of the 2015 AFFH rule, saying the rule had existed since the Fair Housing Act of 1968 existed and that Obama’s rule merely gave it needed teeth. According to his testimony, the underlying law has three requirements: that neither HUD nor its grantees discriminate in their community development programs or projects, that HUD policies work to reduce segregation and discrimination and lastly, that HUD programs should promote housing choice and create equity through opportunity.

“The new AFFH rule does none of those things,” read Freiberg’s testimony.

The Trump administration and HUD have argued low-income communities would not be left out—pointing to the 2017 Opportunity Zone tax program.

The Opportunity Zone tax program, shoehorned among the thousand pages of the Trump administration’s 2017 Tax Plan, provides preferential capital gains tax treatment—an option to avoid or minimize taxes—for investments within designated low-income census tracts. The low-income census tracts must have 50 percent of households with incomes below 60 percent of the Area Median Gross Income or have a poverty rate of 25 percent or more. It is administered by the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department.

An Opportunity Zone investor can take their capital gains from other activities and invest that money into what’s called a “Qualified Opportunity Zone Fund,” which is a partnership or corporation that then invests in eligible property located in an Opportunity Zones. (You can read more about Opportunity Zones in New York here). So far, there is no method to evaluate or measure what the actual impact of the Opportunity Zones program could mean for divested communities within the census tracts.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has chipped away at the HUD budget. For fiscal year 2021, Trump’s budget proposal for HUD totals $47.9 billion, an estimated $8.6 billion less than in fiscal year 2020. In fiscal year 2020, the president’s budget requested $44.1 billion for HUD, approximately $8.7 billion less than in 2019.

The president has not been subtle about his approach to housing issues, tweeting in September: “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood. Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!” As reported by the New York Times, he told a crowd in Texas that month, “There will be no more low-income housing forced into the suburbs.”

Biden’s approach

During his time as a U.S. senator, Biden co-sponsored or sponsored 11 pieces of legislation related to housing and development ranging from the National Homestead Assistance Act—which allowed the HUD secretary to purchase vacant, single-family homes—to being one of the handful in the Senate to support the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1981 to include persons with disabilities including other measures. The latter bill took several years to pass and finally did in 1988, under the Reagan administration.

This July, the Biden and Harris campaign introduced a housing plan with four main goals: Ending redlining and other discriminatory practices in the housing market, providing financial assistance for tenants and first time homeowners, increasing the housing supply and lowering the costs of quality housing and lastly, a comprehensive plan which will work towards ending homelessness.

The Biden housing plan outlines legislation to protect homeowners and renters from predatory lenders and landlords by preventing mortgage brokers from leading borrowers into costly loans and moving on a foreclosure when the homeowner is looking at other financial options such as loan modification. He also plans a ​law​ prohibiting landlords from discriminating against renters receiving federal housing benefits.

Biden also supports the Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act of 2020​, which will help tenants facing eviction gain access to legal assistance, similar to New York City’s Right to Counsel program. He plans on enacting legislation to prevent exclusionary zoning by requiring any state receiving federal dollars through the Community Development Block Grants or Surface Transportation Block Grants, paired with an investment of $300 million in ​Local Housing Policy Grants to give local governments technical assistance and planning support.

Biden says he wants to ensure every eligible household is provided with Section 8 housing vouchers; if achieved, that approach could help at least ​17 million​ low-income households. And he is also planning creating a new renter’s tax credit which will reduce rent and utilities to 30 percent of the income for low-income households who may not be eligible for Sec 8 housing vouchers but still struggle with their rent. He plans on allocating $5 billion annually in federal funding for the tax credit.

Additionally, Biden also plans on continuing an Obama-era plan to hold financial institutions accountable for discriminatory practices in the housing market, including the enforcement of settlements against discriminatory lenders, and he wants to expand the Community Reinvestment Act to become applicable to mortgage and insurance companies.

He plans on reinstating the 2015 AFFH rule and also will establish a national standard for housing appraisals to avoid implicit bias conflicts during an appraisal.

For homeowners, the Biden housing plan will create the First Down Payment Tax Credit, a new refundable and advanceable tax credit of up to $15,000. This tax credit will be permanent. He also plans on expanding the Good Neighbor Next Door program for first-responders, public-school educators, and other public-service workers who live in impoverished communities or who work in neighborhoods with low affordable housing stock.

Biden’s plan includes a new public credit reporting agency under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to give consumers a chance to use non-traditional sources of data like rental history and utility bills to establish credit.

The Democrats’ plan will establish a $100 billion Affordable Housing Fund for construction and rehab of affordable housing. These funds would also allow local governments to purchase vacant, underdeveloped, or underutilized property and construct affordable housing. He’d increase the Housing Trust Fund by $20 billion. Additionally, Biden will invest $10 billion into the ​Low-Income Housing Tax Credit​, expand flexible funding for the Community Development Block Grant by $10 billion over a ten-year period.

For rural communities, Biden supports Congressman James Clyburn’s ​10-20-30 plan​. The 10-20-30 plan requires a minimum of ten percent of federal funds of a federal program go to impoverished communities where the poverty levels have been 20 percent or higher over the past 30 years.

On homelessness, Biden says he will direct his HUD Secretary to lead a task force of mayors and local elected officials to create a framework within 100 days to tackle homelessness. He supports Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ ​Ending Homelessness Act​ to fund strategies which like case management, emergency shelters and additional housing vouchers for homeless individuals. The cost will total to $13 billion over a five-year period. Additionally, he backs a law to create over 400,000​ additional housing units for homeless households especially those with children and young adults.

Lastly, he says his plan also will set a national goal of ensuring formerly incarcerated individuals have housing upon reentry into society.