Housing policy discussed at CNN Town Hall event

Following controversy from the Iowa caucus results being delayed, the nation turns its attention to the New Hampshire Democratic primary election that will take place this Tuesday. As the competition begins to heat up between Democratic Party candidates, CNN hosted a two-night town hall event this week to let New Hampshire voters ask questions directly to the eight participating candidates.

The eight candidates who were featured by CNN’s town hall on Wednesday and Thursday were (in order of appearance): Former Vice President Joe Biden; Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren; businessman Andrew Yang; businessman Tom Steyer; Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Each candidate was given a full hour to receive a handful of questions, and give lengthy responses without having to battle for airtime between rival candidates.

Housing policy has not been discussed much during the 2020 campaign, but some candidates either spoke directly on the subject or discussed other policies that are directly related to issues affecting low-income Americans. Affordable Housing Online has read the transcripts provided by CNN, and highlighted each candidates’ thoughts on housing policy in America.

Editor’s Note: Pete Buttigieg and Deval Patrick were not asked questions about housing or specific issues facing low-income Americans, and were not included in this report for that reason.

Joe Biden

No questions for former Vice President Biden were specifically about housing, but one question raised to him was about policies to help those living in poverty.

Hello, Vice President Biden. We hear about the plight of the middle class a lot. How come there’s so little mention of the working poor? People have two and three jobs cobbled together, none of them with benefits. They’re too exhausted to spend time with their kids. How would you go about raising wages?

Martha Dickerson

Biden responded with multiple ideas of how to help the middle class, but began with a pledge to help both the middle class and those who are in poverty.

“The way I do it, first of all, no one should be working in the United States of America 40 hours a week and living in poverty,” said Biden. “And that’s why we have to raise, nationally, the standard of $15 an hour for every worker in America, number one.”

His other main points to help working families include to “triple the amount of money we spend for Title I schools,” “raise teacher salaries,” “double the number of school psychologists and school nurses,” and “provide the opportunity to be able to get these jobs.”

Elizabeth Warren

No direct housing policy questions were asked to Senator Warren either, but she got an opportunity to discuss housing when asked a question about persons with disabilities.

What role do you see people with disabilities playing in your campaign? And even better yet, what role do you see people with disabilities playing in the White House, if you become president?

Ruth Morrissette

After expressing her general ideals about supporting all persons equally, Warren immediately dove into her housing plan.

“We have a terrible housing problem in this country,” she said. “We just have a shrinking housing supply and a growing population, among middle-class families, working-class families, the working poor, the poor poor, the homeless, formerly incarcerated people, seniors who want to age in place, and also people with disabilities.”

Warren continued, “we need to think about this also about how we provide housing for people with disabilities. Because it’s different. For some it may mean group housing. But an opportunity, for those who want to, to be able to live independently, what that would mean, and how we need to invest in housing.”

She then encouraged people to visit her campaign website to read more about her views and plans regarding this issue.

Andrew Yang

While Andrew Yang was not asked a question about housing, he was asked about his policies to reduce income inequality and how his Freedom Dividend would affect existing assistance to low-income Americans.

Thank you, Mr. Yang. So your policy of an American universal basic income, or “freedom dividend,” has come under criticism for those who claim it may undercut key federal assistance programs, such as Social Security and Medicaid. How would you reassure voters who depend on these programs that their needs will be met? Will their needs be met?

Owen Culberson

“So the last thing I would do is reduce existing benefits. I want to add to them to make sure we can live the kind of lives that we deserve here in this country,” Yang responded.

“We are stacking the deck against our young people…If you were born in the United States in the 1990s, you’re down to a 50/50 shot of doing better than your parents.”

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager and philanthropist, believes the rising cost of housing is a straightforward problem that has been made worse by the lack of federal investment.

Renters today can expect to spend 40 percent to 50 percent of their income on monthly rent. Similarly, housing costs have risen to exceed 2008 levels. Both of these factors create a very tight market for young families as well as low-income families.

What would you direct your HUD secretary to do, once in office, in order to address the issue of rising housing costs and lack of inventory?

Eric LeBlanc

“We have too few affordable housing units in the United States of America. It’s not hard to figure out why prices go up,” Steyer responded, “We need more affordable housing units, to the tune of millions.”

Steyer argues from experience that “the markets work to make money for the people building things in markets,” and that Americans need a government that “gets things done for the citizens of the United States”.

As President, Tom Steyer would spend “hundreds of billions of dollars” building affordable and “climate-smart” affordable housing units, a process he claims would “create millions of good-paying union jobs” and meet demands for affordable housing.

Bernie Sanders

Affordable housing also became a talking point for Senator Bernie Sanders, when a question was posed to him about his fight against income inequality.

Good evening. I was wondering, why do you care so fervently about economic inequities?

Robin Clark

Senator Sanders gave a personal account of his own family’s hardships while growing up, and then said, “So to answer your question, it is — in the richest country in the history of the world, it is not all that hard to say that all of our people can have a decent standard of living.”

He continued to say, “Yes, if you work 40 hours a week, you can make at least 15 bucks an hour. Yes, your kids, regardless of your income, can go to college. Yes, of course, health care is a human right. Yes, of course, you don’t have to spend half of your income for housing because we’re going to build affordable housing. This is not utopian stuff. This is stuff we can do.”

Amy Klobuchar

Senator Klobuchar was asked directly about affordable housing as well, with a reference to a recent political ad she released.

“Good evening. Your new TV commercial offers lots of great strategies that you’re going to achieve as president. And one of those is affordable housing.

And this is a particular pain point in our state, where a New Hampshire housing authority reports that there is less than 2 percent vacancy in two-bedroom apartments across the state, with 3 percent rent increases every year.

So how do you propose to create more affordable housing? And what are some of the strategies to do so?”

Claire Collins

“[Y]es, urban areas are having a big problem with affordable housing”, Senator Amy Klobuchar responded before highlighting that even mid-size and small towns are experiencing these same housing problems.

“First of all, I would make sure that we take care of the backlog of Section 8 housing,” Klobuchar said in reference to the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is underfunded and oversubscribed.

Klobuchar would also create “incentives for building more housing” but has not provided specifics on what those incentives would be in this town hall or in her housing plan.

More Coverage: The atmosphere in the room is certain to be more tense tonight, as candidates argue their cases directly against one another during the debated that will be aired on ABC starting at 8:00 pm ET.

As new housing ideas are presented by candidates, Affordable Housing Online will continue to track these statements on our 2020 Presidential Candidate Housing Plans page.

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