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Buttigieg Brings Housing Affordability Into 2020 Platform

Affordable housing

By Sam Gilboard

Tackling the housing crisis remains a critical issue for voters in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election. Demand for housing outpaces new development, rising construction costs continue to drive down affordability and local zoning policies discourage the creation of affordable housing. Despite the nation’s desire for discourse on safe and affordable housing, debate moderators and candidates alike have refrained from discussing the issue (although a first-of-its-kind housing affordability question was asked during the November Democratic Debate). The National Apartment Association (NAA) recognizes the importance that this election has on the future of the housing industry and is dedicated to bringing its members, affiliates and concerned voters nationwide complete coverage of how candidates plan to take on the crisis. 

For the first installment in our 2020 Candidate Spotlight Series, we will focus on Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. On November 8 , Mayor Buttigieg became the 13th candidate to release a preview of his housing strategy as part of his campaign’s overall Economic Agenda for American Families, an ambitious $1.7 trillion plan that will invest hundreds of billions of dollars into lowering costs for healthcare, childcare, college and housing. Mayor Buttigieg is expected to release a more nuanced housing framework later this primary season, according to sources close to the campaign.

Mayor Buttigieg, who experienced a surge in Iowa polling last week which overtook front-runner Senator Elizabeth Warren, plans to address housing affordability through a $430 billion investment in measures intended to unlock access to our nation’s housing stock. This will include a $170 billion expansion of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCV), meant to ensure consistent program administration and provide eligible families with access to critical wraparound services in their communities. The plan does not detail administrative reform of the HCV program, which has historically been burdened with inefficiencies that have discouraged voluntary participation in the program by housing providers.

The core of Mayor Buttigieg’s housing strategy is to produce or preserve two million affordable housing units through investment in federal housing grant programs, potentially opening housing opportunities to nearly 7 million families. Other candidates have committed equally substantial funding to achieve similar outcomes in terms of apartment homes produced and families assisted. And, like most other candidates, Mayor Buttigieg will take on local barriers to construction, thereby encouraging new development and increasing the housing stock within communities.

Still, the housing shortage will require nearly 330,000 new apartment homes to be built annually, at all price points, just to meet current demand. Mayor Buttigieg’s goal, while well-intentioned, falls short of the 4.6 million housing units needed over ten years. The nation’s nearly 39 million apartment residents, and scores more seeking affordable housing, must be assured that candidates’ and their proposed plans, are adequately addressing the reality of this housing crisis.

The Douglass Plan, Mayor Buttigieg’s comprehensive investment in the Black community, will champion initiatives that revitalize vacant, blighted or unsafe properties in historically underserved communities. The plan also encompasses initiatives that provide greater resources and social benefits to formerly incarcerated individuals, including access to housing. Although well-intentioned, such measures have the potential to levy costly lead remediation requirements and restrictions on resident screening that would negatively impact a housing provider’s ability to effectively and affordably manage their properties. Given that Mayor Buttigieg’s hometown of South Bend has some of the highest eviction rates in the country, expect future iterations of these initiatives to include more stringent restrictions for property owners. We must ensure that the next president pursues responsible and sustainable housing policies that effectively address the housing crisis and do not, instead, exacerbate the problem.

The apartment industry should also be cognizant of the implications of Mayor Buttigieg’s broader economic agenda. In line with most of the Democratic candidates, Mayor Buttigieg advocates for a $15 federal minimum wage, a hotly debated issue that has far reaching implications beyond what pay an employee may take home at the end of the day. His Empowering Workers Plan includes a number of concerning proposals that have the potential to drive construction costs higher and encourage project labor agreements that have been reported to increase overall development costs by 20 percent (construction costs are cited as a top barrier to the development of affordable housing, according to NAA’s Barriers to Construction Report). While NAA has concerns about several of the policies in the Empowering Workers Plan, it is encouraging to see inclusion of a $5 billion investment in a national apprenticeship program. Developers desperately need policymakers to invest in programs that help address the severe shortage of construction labor—such investment could shorten production delays and reduce overall costs.

Mayor Buttigieg recognizes the severity of America’s housing crisis and should be applauded for taking steps toward remedying the problem. However, understanding the true cost of this plan cannot be fully realized until a standalone platform is introduced. Now, it is more important than ever to pay attention to the candidates’ policy platforms and rhetoric. The next president will decide the future of housing affordability and the multifamily industry.

The National Apartment Association will provide ongoing coverage of the 2020 Presidential Election Cycle, highlighting its importance to the multifamily industry. Stay tuned for more spotlights on candidates’ housing policies, debate analysis, and much more. For more information on the 2020 Presidential Election, please contact NAA Manager of Public Policy, Sam Gilboard.